Show up and blow up

Politics and other mistakes
By AL DIAMON  |  January 9, 2008

I’d like a word with the 30 percent of Maine’s adult population that never, under any circumstances, votes.

That word is: Thanks.

The last thing this state needs is more bungling boobs making boneheaded decisions that affect our lives in negative ways. We already have the Legislature for that.

I’ve also got some advice for another third of the electorate, those folks who appear to be casting their ballots based on the last TV commercial they saw: On election day 2008, stay home.

You can use the time you’d have wasted traveling to and from the polls to e-mail your confidential financial information to Nigerian princes, who promise to make you rich. Or, better yet, send me your credit card numbers, and I’ll make you equally rich.

Encouraging the ill-informed, uninformed, and uninformable to take part in the democratic process is a source of pride for Maine election officials. They brag about 2006, when several dreadful gubernatorial candidates convinced about 58 percent of the registered population to cast ballots against them. In the 2004 presidential election, 740,752 of a possible 1,018,892 voters expressed their frustration at the ballot box. Even in off years, about 40 percent of responsible adults and an equal percentage of irresponsible adults show up at the polls, although there’s often nothing worth voting on.

Few states can claim such numbers. In New Hampshire, for instance, most legislative races attract fewer than a dozen voters. Of course, that may be because New Hampshire has 63,000 legislative districts, each one containing a dozen voters. But that does nothing to counter my central argument, which is:

Just because lots of people vote doesn’t mean the results aren’t ridiculous.

Exhibit A: Governor John Baldacci.
I was reminded of this problem recently, when I came across a study by the Connecticut State Data Center at the University of Connecticut (CSDCUC — apparently, the acronym police went for a doughnut break when that one was chosen, or maybe Connecticut just likes names that sound like moving mucus) that advocates something called “vote-count apportionment.”

Vote-count apportionment calls for deciding how many seats in Congress each state gets based not on the old method of what the study calls “a questionable census population count,” but on how many people actually cast ballots. The researchers claim that if turnout were the deciding factor, Maine, Connecticut, and Massachusetts would each gain an additional US representative, while California and some southwestern states would lose influence in the House.

The study argues that states like Texas and Arizona will soon be entitled to an extra congressperson apiece, because they have lots of undocumented aliens boosting their census numbers, but not their voter rolls. Switching to vote-count apportionment would prevent that from happening, while also “provid[ing] greater assurance of fairness, transparency and accuracy when allocating seats to individual states.”

As stupid ideas go, this one has a certain appeal.

Except, as I’ve already demonstrated, there’s no correlation between good government and high turnout. New Hampshire has mediocre participation in its elections, but can take solace in its robust economy and low taxes. Maine is always among the national leaders in the percentage of the voting-age population that goes to the polls, but the economy is struggling and taxes are excessive. For decades, the few Portland residents who bothered to go to the polls for municipal elections tended to fill City Council and School Committee seats with wackos. Yet, the city remains the state’s economic engine.

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