The Right to Abstain

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Low voter turnout has very little to do with difficulty in the voter registration process. About 20 bills already filed in the 86thTexas Legislature would have you believe the opposite. From automatic or electronic voter registration to government entities tasked with ensuring high school students receive registration cards, these so-called solutions to low turnout, are instead invitations to harvesters and others with ill intentions to steal votes.

Registered Voters Have to Care to Vote

In 2016, the Pew Research Center studied why eligible voters did not vote in the presidential election. They found that registration problems accounted for only 4% of those surveyed. The real issues were dislike of the candidates/issues at 25% and a lack of interest or feeling his/her vote was not significant at 15%. That’s 40% who didn’t go to the polls because they just didn’t want to vote. Just as we have a right to vote, shouldn’t we also have the right not to vote.

While U.S. turnout is lower in presidential elections, it isn’t that far behind. 2016 saw a 61% turnout if the number is calculated from all voting age citizens. If the number turnout is calculated amongst the registered voters, the turnout jumps to 86.8%. People vote when they are engaged in the political process, when they care about the candidates and issues. The news media tends to focus all of its attention on national or statewide races. Those races in turn have a much higher turnout than their local counterparts. Learning about local candidates and issues tends to be very difficult and time consuming. Fewer people engage in these races and the turnout is a small fraction of the statewide and national elections.

Brazil does not have that right. In fact, they require their citizenry to vote with some of the highest penalties of all the countries with compulsory voting. A citizen between 18 and 70 who fails to show at the polls and has not received an exemption faces a fine. If that fine isn’t paid, the person is banned from working in the government, obtaining a passport, enrolling in a public university, or obtaining loans from state banks. Despite all this, the average voter turnout for a presidential election in Brazil is 80%. Factoring in ballots cast but left blank, the average is closer to 70%.

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Registered Non-Voters Can Become Victims

In our years of research into election fraud, Direct Action Texas has seen many cases where votes are stolen, and voters become victims. Yet, there are some cases where non-voters are the chosen victims. In these cases, the harvesters look for registered voters who have not voted in years. They seek out people who will never know their vote has been stolen. 

In 2010 Delores McMillian pleaded guilty to attempting to vote using another person’s registration information. While working as an election judge in the 2010 Primary, she chose a name off the list of people that hadn’t voted and attempted to vote in that person’s name. She was only prevented from doing so because she was stopped by a fellow poll worker. Imagine if that other worker had been a friend who looked the other way. She could have had a list of unlikely voters and voted for each one of them. 

Another possible scenario is the harvester who obtains a list of unlikely voters, sends applications in their names, and casts their ballots. Those unlikely voters would never know their vote had been cast.

The key is not registering unlikely voters. The key is getting people engaged in the political process. Instead of focusing on getting citizens registered to vote, we should focus on why they should want to vote. With a better understanding of how laws are passed and who actually sets property tax rates, citizens will be motivated to register and to vote.

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