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April 27th, 2010 7:05 pm
Rock the (Right Not to) Vote
Posted by Print

From Colorado today comes news that the small town of Ridgway is seeing an organized movement to make voting compulsory. From the relevant piece in the Denver Post:

RIDGWAY — Residents of this Old West- meets-New Age town can be fined if their fences are too high, they have too many chickens, their dogs aren’t on leashes or their weeds are out of control.

Tom Hennessy would like to add not voting to that list.

Hennessy, a popular Ridgway brewer and pub owner, is proposing that the mostly dirt-street town at the edge of the San Juan Mountains become a national model by enacting a mandatory-voting statute. Residents who don’t bother to vote, for no good reason, would be fined.

“We could do this. It would be a paradigm shift,” Hennessy said. “We could be the great civics lesson in representative democracy.”

The piece later goes on to note that Ridgway’s last city election saw only 170 out of 790 registered voters go to the polls. (By the way, I’m not sure that “only” isn’t a bit of a stolen base. Voter turnout of a little over 21 percent in a standalone city election doesn’t strike me as aberrantly low).

I never cease to be amazed by those who think that the key to strengthening democracy is to compel those too apathetic to drive to their polling places to vote (George Will has applied this same principle in criticizing the use of mail-in ballots).  Not only that, the decision not to vote can be just as much of a political statement as heading to the polls — one of either contenment or resentment. One of the inherent virtues of particpatory  democracy is that it is disporportionately shaped by those who actually … you know, participate. Thus, the folks in Ridgway would do well not to fix something that isn’t broken.

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