How To Get More People To Vote

Tracy Hermanstorfer kisses her newborn son, Coltyn, after a news conference, Dec. 28, 2009 at Memorial Hospital in Colorado Springs, Colo. AP/Colorado Springs Gazette

The election is over, and one result is clear: More people could have voted. After every election, we are chided for our poor turnout. We're reminded by the scolding pundits that we are supposed to be the greatest democracy in the world, yet so many of us don't bother to exercise democracy's greatest right. You hear various excuses like, "I had too much work to do," "I couldn't find a place to park," or "A year ago, I borrowed a ladder from my neighbor and I didn't want to run into him." While I would never sit in judgment of people who have such legitimate excuses, I do have some suggestions that might help get a bigger voter turnout next time.

Cash Incentive: Before getting to my suggestions, I have to mention that a cash incentive to get more voters to vote was actually on the Arizona ballot in Tuesday's election. A "voters' lottery" was proposed in which one lucky Arizona voter would get a million dollars every time there is a major election. According to the proposal, this money would have come out of leftover cash from the Arizona state lottery. Voters rejected this proposal, but they haven't had a chance to vote on my suggestions yet.

Cash as an incentive bothers me somewhat, but I'm not against offering some non-cash incentives:

A National Holiday: When I was growing up in Chicago, Election Day was always a school holiday. Students, teachers, and administrators did not have to go to school on that day. Those adults who worked in schools had no excuse for not voting. And making Election Day a holiday made the day feel more special to everyone. So, I propose that all major Election Days be paid national holidays.

Let's treat Election Day with at least the same importance that we treat "President's Day" — an artificial holiday that many people can't tell you what it celebrates or when it is.

Voter Videos: You know those inexpensive video cameras that some people have on top of their computers so they can show relatives pictures of their new baby or their new haircut? I propose that one of these cameras be placed in each voting booth. The voter would have the option of turning the camera on or off. Voters who decide to put it on would have two minutes to express their feelings about the election, the candidates, or anything else they want to talk about. These videos will be shown on public access TV and/or the Internet. So, if some people aren't that excited about voting because of the choices that are being offered, they can go to the polls primarily to express this dissatisfaction, and while they're there, they might as well vote.

Free Food: There should be free food at every polling place, paid for by the political parties involved in the election. Music should be played there, too. In other words, why not make voting fun? Once we hear the results of the election, there's a chance we'll be depressed, so why not at least enjoy the voting process?

Let Hard-Working Undocumented Immigrants Vote: Just kidding. I wanted to see if you're still paying attention.

Special Lanes And Lines For Voters: We could reward those who vote by allowing them to drive in the express or "carpool" lanes on freeways and highways.

The express lane reward can be used in other areas, too. If you vote, you automatically get to be served first in restaurants, you get to go to the front of the line in the grocery store and –- here's the big one — you get to be seen at the doctor's office before non-voters.

Listen To The Children: Schools could encourage kids to participate in a "Go To The Polls With Your Parents" program. This way, parents would have to explain to their children why they're too busy or just don't feel like voting. Maybe a disappointed child, a tantrum or two, or cries of, "But then I won't get to wear a sticker at school tomorrow" will shame some people into voting.

Obviously, it's too bad that we even have to talk about ways to get more people to vote — especially when some people consider the solution so simple. They suggest that there would be a better turnout if Americans simply had better choices to vote for and if we all felt that our vote really mattered in determining what our lives will be like. Unfortunately, that situation is probably less likely to come true than express lanes for voters.



Lloyd Garver writes a weekly column for SportsLine.com. He has written for many television shows, ranging from "Sesame Street" to "Family Ties" to "Frasier." He has also read many books, some of them about elections that mattered.

By Lloyd Garver
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