I’ve never voted in a democratic election. For non-resident aliens, the US goes in for taxation without representation. Since the age of majority I’ve haven’t lived in my country of citizenship during an election, though I think I could have voted in the UK election that delivered a landslide to my Islington neigbour, Tony Blair. Ireland does not offer voting rights to its diaspora, which is okay. Now that most of us leave by choice, I’m not convinced that out-of-touch emigrants, paying taxes to other states, should be allowed to shape the country.
Colum McCann, the novelist, was interviewed on Irish radio last week about the Democratic primaries. (Ireland believes that fiction writers are sound choices as political pundits.) He was passionate, though not particularly articulate, on behalf of various downtrodden groups. Yeah, but they’re screwed, Colum, I found myself thinking. They don’t vote. Countries get the governments they deserve.
In America, the office goes to the candidate who can raise the money to beam most messages to television viewers. It is hugely expensive to speak through TV networks, and the scale of this money race scares me. How can corporate fundraising not taint everyone it touches? In part I am looking forward to working for Meetup because their service enables political engagement–and fundraising–on a human scale again. Several candidates have learned to use it to bring real people into their campaigns. Meetup is outside politics, but helping voters to come face-to-face can only be a good thing.
Every election, a new voter block is annointed with the power to swing the race. These are the people the TV ads dance for. Thatcher’s C2 Essex boys. Soccer moms. Blue-collar males. California Latinos. Seniors. The paltry modern turnout is easily dominated by interest groups who can get out the vote. But what if everyone voted? What if candidates had to address every franchised adult, not just those likely to turn out voluntarily? Jury duty and income tax are compulsory. So is filling out the national census. Why not voting in national elections? (You could check “Abstain” if so inclined.)
I have no idea what this silent majority would say, though I’d love to hear. Millions died for democracy in the 20th century, but many of those of us who grow up with it are too lazy to care. Is the very idea of compulsory voting anti-democratic? In the west, we think a lot about our rights, especially as Tom Ridge erodes them. It may be time to start on an overdue Bill of Responsibilities.