Voting & Registration, aka I am hoping EVERYONE who can BREATHE is Alive!

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2008/10/06 03:01 -04:00, original URI:

So it was yesterday morning1 when Rae Dawn Chong2,3 put in her facebook status:

Rae Dawn Chong is hoping EVERYONE who can VOTE is Registered!

Of course there are some interesting language problems here that occurred to me, despite the fact that I knew what she meant, some of which are caused by the underlying definitions of the words involved.

Starting with the obvious, of course....

Since in this country you must be registered in order to vote, one could just as easily make the statement that I did in the title -- there is a certain logical analogue there. :-)

So, just like back in But is it mnemonical?, hints of Mark Liberman's Those who are not authorized are not authorized are there.

Now in order to be registered, there are specific requirements. From Wikipedia's article on the subject:

Under the United States Constitution, states may not restrict voting rights on the basis of race (Fifteenth Amendment) or sex (Nineteenth Amendment). The Twenty-sixth Amendment prohibits the federal government and the states from forbidding any citizen of age 18 or greater to vote simply because of their age.

While the federal government has jurisdiction over federal elections, most election laws are decided at the state level and the true authority to interpret and enforce those laws comes at the local level. Because of this, the administration of elections can vary widely across jurisdictions.

Registering to vote is the responsibility of individuals in the United States. Voters are not automatically registered to vote once they reach the age of 18. Every state except North Dakota requires that citizens who wish to vote be registered.

Traditionally, voters had to register at state offices to vote, but in the mid-1990s efforts were made by the federal government to make registering easier, in an attempt to increase turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (the "Motor Voter" law) forced state governments to make the voter registration process easier by providing uniform registration services through drivers' license registration centers, disability centers, schools, libraries, and mail-in registration. Some states allow citizens to register to vote on the same day of the election, known as Election Day Registration. States with same-day registration are exempt from Motor Voter, namely: Idaho, Minnesota, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.Voters may register at the local election office (which is usually at city or town hall) or, one may call the election department and request a voter registration form through the mail. Voter registration forms may be found at public libraries and registries of motor vehicles. These forms must be filled out and mailed to the local election department. Also, one may register at a voter registration drive. The only states with online voter registration are Arizona and Washington, though legislation has been introduced in other states.

Some states prohibit individuals convicted of a felony from voting, known as felony disenfranchisement. One may register wherever one has an address, regardless of its permanence- for example, a college student living away from home may register to vote in the college's city, even if that is not a permanent address. In most states, one must register, usually 30 days before a given election, in order to vote in it. Six states, Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming, allow for Election Day Registration.

In some states, when registering to vote, one may declare an affiliation with a political party. This declaration of affiliation does not cost any money, and it is not the same as being a dues-paying member of a party; for example, a party cannot prevent anybody from declaring his or her affiliation with them, but it can refuse requests for full membership. Some states, including Michigan and Virginia do not have party affiliation with registration.

In general elections, a voter may choose to vote for all of a particular party's candidates (straight-ticket voting) or to vote for candidates from different parties for different offices (Party X's candidate for President, Party Y's candidate for Senator, Party Z's candidate for Governor). In a general election, one's political party affiliation does not determine which party's candidates one may vote for.

The obvious deeper issue here that this description makes clear is that the requirements vary -- there are even states4 where no registration is required, as well as ones that have not hit a deadline in terms of lack of registration meaning it is too late to vote -- they can register on the very same day!

I happen to live in a state (WA) that I heard in 2006 had something like over 85% of the vote handled by mail, which is the same thing as absentee ballots, though many of them arrive in before election day. I was reading an article last week that claimed that by 2010 WA would be 100% mail-in for its ballots. The registration deadline still exist, though registration (if not already done, as it was for me) can be done online, which of course makes it even easier (though not easier than already done, of course!).

Then of course there is the fact that Rae Dawn Chong (of NH) and I (of WA) are both in Blue states, and thus even though both us are presumably going to vote, our actual votes will not really have influence over the election itself, even if you multiplied each of us by many times in our respective states.

I have a colleague who really does not like Obama much, so he has stated that he doesn't plan to vote for him. But he has the same problem, one step worse -- trapped in a Blue state, the region will carry the person who he really doesn't want to win.

In theory if we wanted our votes to "count" in the sense of having influence in a state that is "in play", all three of us would be sure to reside/be registered in a state like Ohio or somewhere that the results really depend on heavy voter turnout of whoever we want to win. If we brought enough of our friends with us, we might not even mind so much living on the wrong color state. But this is really not such a practical strategy, so one whole I think we are stuck with not mattering....

A largish chunk of my family actually does live in Ohio. In a generally Northern and bluer area (sans Kentucky twang type accent easier to find as one heads towards Columbus and areas further south) though at least one of them is virtually5 guaranteed to vote Republican. Which leads to the other question -- does it show one to be more patriotic if they work6 harder to make sure their vote counts by living somewhere that it will?

1 - Well, she lives in New Hampshire so technically I think it was afternoon for her?
2 - The actress, and a person whose commentary on life and such I am finding to pretty interesting these days.
3 - Yes, as far as I know, it is actually her. Though there are many profiles on facebook that are not real so the skepticism is understood.
4 - Well, one state.
5 - Though in 2004, the choice was reportedly made to vote Democrat rather than Republican.
6 - After having lived in various parts of Ohio for 12 years of my life, I feel qualified to say that living in Ohio can be hard work, sometimes!


Unicode characters are decidedly non-partisan and sponsoring this post would have been unethical.

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