Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Party Lever

Giving stupid voters the right to vote stupidly

by Clifford F. Thies

In a prior post I mentioned that the Democrats in New Mexico are trying to restore the straight-ticket or party lever. Some readers have inquired as to why that works to any particular party's advantage.

The way elections are administered is significant. Originally, almost all voting was by voice. There was no pretense of a secret ballot and candidates were quite explicit about rewarding those who voted for them with grog and other refreshments.

Later, mostly because of the expansion in the number of offices to be filled at an election, the use of a written ballot came into use. Initially, political parties printed up the ballot, each listing only their candidates for the offices to be filled, and often differentiated their ballots from the ballots of other parties by the color of the paper. Again, there was no pretense of a secret ballot. During the time privately-printed ballots predominated, it was not unusual for political parties to offer an inducement to cast their ballot. Two dollars, for example.

By the late 19th Century, the innovation of the Australian or secret ballot came into use as a reform. The secret ballot not only involved a private place to fill in the ballot, it involved the use of government-printed ballot (or, today, a mechanical or electronic voting machine). The secret ballot offered several advantages the most important of which is that it is relatively immune to the offer of an inducement, which came to be viewed as wrong.

There are, however, problems with the secret ballot. The first is the limited-information voter. How, for example, is the person who is just barely able to used an EBT card to differentiate amongst the many candidates for each office. Well, one way is to limit the number of candidates on the ballot. Mustn't confuse people with too many choices!

How about allowing a party label? Even a symbol?

Actually, these things sound like a good idea in that parties would have an interest in not having too many of their members found guilty of taking bribes or having sexcapades with underage prostitutes and such, excepting of course the Democratic Party which relies on informationally-challenged voters for its margin of victory and wouldn't be hurt if the President of the United States was himself hitting on an intern.

Even better than allowing a party label is a party lever. This way if the jerk you just bused to the voting booth during early voting can just manage to pull down the party lever, all will be good.

Of course, it was the Democratic Party that opposed the use of the secret ballot in the 19th century. They have always been in the business of buying votes, whether with cartons of cigarettes, Obamaphones, "free or reduced cost health care," or cash as in days of old. At least back in the old days, they were honest about it.

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