Getting people to vote

Got some interesting reactions to yesterday’s post about reasons people give for not voting.

Sandi from Sappy as a Tree said the post reminded her to get absentee ballots for her kids, who are attending college out-of-state. Glad I was able to help, Sandi.

Susan Gourley, who writes for her eponymous blog, commented that “Too many elections there seems to be only a choice between two evils.” This is the “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” position. The lesser of two evils is still evil, and there doesn’t seem to be a way around it. Meanwhile, Sue Archer over at Doorway Between Worlds, was surprised to learn that there were so many elections in the United States are uncontested, and remarked “How discouraging for the process!” It is, and I’ll have a suggestion for how to fix both of those situations in a minute.

Rachel, from Rachel Also Writes, said that, in Australia, voting is mandatory, and you can be fined for not voting. She also said “they always have sausage sizzles and Australians love sausage sizzles.”

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I’m not certain what sausage sizzles are, but I know if they were promising free food, I’d be encouraged to vote. I’d try to vote three or four times, in fact. I did say I was from Chicago, didn’t I? By the way, Oprah Winfrey started her career in Chicago…

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I don’t know if Americans could be bought off with food, unfortunately, but I think we might be on to something there. As it is, most states give away a sticker that you can put on and walk around all day, announcing “I’m better than you are! I voted!” Kind of dorky-looking. At least the ones we have in Georgia are.

georgia-peach

Now, what I think we ought to have is a lottery. Vote, and you’re entered in a lottery with ten prizes of $100,000. The probability of winning would be kind of low, but someone has to win.

Now, back to the situations where both candidates are lousy or there’s only one in the running: Give people the option of voting “no.”

Source: Wikipedia
Source: Wikipedia

The idea of doing this has been bandied about for years now, and I think it’s time it was given more thought.

Right now, most elections are between a Democrat and a Republican. There might be a candidate from the Libertarian Party or the Green Party, or someone running as an independent, and there’s always the option of writing someone in, but by and large, the choice is between the Democrat and the Republican. Well, if you don’t like either of them, your choices are not to cast a vote, write someone in, “Eeny meeny miney mo,” or vote for one of the third-party or independent candidates.

Add “None of the above,” or NOTA, to the ballot, and you’ll always have a choice. Now, if you like neither the Democrat nor the Republican, you can deny them both your vote and make it count. If NOTA wins, both parties choose someone new and the election is held again. If someone is running uncontested, they now have competition.

In the case of the Presidential election, the Constitution already stipulates that the House of Representatives chooses the President and the Senate chooses the Vice President. If NOTA won originally, they would be required to choose someone other than the two original candidates.

Think of it this way: the percentage of eligible voters in the United States has been between 49% (1996) and either 57.5% or 58.2% (last election) since 1968. Those elections were decided not by the people voting, but the people not voting. No vote is as good as a vote for the candidate who wins. Therefore, Barack Obama, who received 50.1% of the vote from those who bothered to show up and cast a ballot, was chosen by 29% of the eligible voters in this country. Mitt Romney received 47.2% of the actual votes, but was chosen by 27% of the eligible voters. If enough of the 44% of people who either voted for a third-party candidate (generally a protest vote) or who didn’t even show up were enticed by the NOTA option, it’s likely we’d have a President and a Vice President other than either Obama and Joe Biden or Romney and Paul Ryan.

Which is precisely why we’ll never see it happen.

Oh, well. Maybe we could go with sausage sizzles…

Oh, they're hot dogs! Now I'm in for sure! (source: BecomingAussie.wordpress.com)
Oh, they’re hot dogs! Now I’m in for sure! (source: BecomingAussie.wordpress.com)
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Ten reasons people don’t vote

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My apologies in advance to people who live outside the United States, but you might recognize some of these anyway.

Election Day is November 2, and for some of us it can’t come soon enough. I’m tired of the constant stream of campaign ads during Jeopardy! and all of the cards being mailed to the house that just go in the garbage, and thank heaven we got rid of our landline, or we’d have to erase the campaign messages off the voice mail.

Here in Georgia, anyone who wants to vote early can do so, if they happen to be free between 7 AM and 7 PM on Monday through Friday and can find the polling place, and the requirements for absentee ballots have been relaxed in order to try and encourage more people to cast a ballot. (I qualify for an absentee ballot, anyway, since I’m an Official Disabled Person.) Still, our turnout here is about 65 percent. That might come as a shock to those of you who live in countries where you can be cited and fined for not voting on Election Day and not having a good reason why, but it’s pretty much par for the course here.

Anyway, I sat down and thought of ten reasons that people give for not voting. Here they are.

  1. It’s inconvenient. You can take advantage of early voting or absentee voting, but it’s still a hassle. If you have trouble showing up between 7 AM and 7 PM on the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, chances are you’ll have trouble finding a day when you can take advantage of early voting. You can get an absentee ballot, but it requires getting the form (assuming you know where to find it), filling it out, finding an envelope, a stamp, and a mailbox. Enough of an inconvenience to make people say “forget this.”
  2. Stuff happens. It’s not at all unusual to have to leave for work before the polls open and not get back to your neighborhood until after they close. You might think you have enough time to get home and vote, then get stuck behind an accident for an hour. Or, just as you’re ready to leave, all hell breaks loose at work and you need to stay there until it’s fixed. Or somebody (child, elderly relative, spouse, you) might be ill.
  3. Incumbency. Incumbents have a distinct advantage over challengers in elections. They’ve been in the job for a while, they have experience, and people figure, as long as I’m doing all right, the incumbent might as well keep his job. The incumbent also has a distinct advantage in collecting campaign contributions, so they’re on TV, in the mailbox, and on the phone all the time. Those not interested in voting for the incumbent get the impression that it’s done and dusted, and stay home.
  4. Negative campaigns. One of the two races in Georgia is between two individuals who have decided that the best way to win is to smear the other candidate. So Candidate A presents Candidate B as a jerk, while Candidate B presents Candidate A as an idiot. By the time they’re finished the electorate in Georgia is likely to decide both candidates are idiots and jerks, and decide it’s not worth it.
  5. Better things to do. Political battles are like battles between warring Mafia families. The only people interested are the parties involved, and hopefully no one else gets hurt. The electorate really has no stake in who gets elected; elections have become scrimmages between the blue team and the red team. You can’t blame someone for saying “I have to wash my hair.”
  6. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. Voters see the candidates, don’t like either of them, know that it’s a choice between those two, and decide to stay home rather than vote for either one.
  7. No real choice. There are 435 members of the House of Representatives, a significant percentage of whom run against no one or at most token opposition. Florida has 23 US Representatives, 18 of whom are running unopposed; in Massachusetts, five of the nine are unopposed. It’s even worse with many of the local races. Texas has a Senate and a House, and more than half of the current members of both are running unopposed.
  8. Too many things on the ballot. My brother lives in California and says there are more questions on the ballot than on the SAT (the primary college entrance exam, for those who don’t know what it is). Every state has judicial races, most of which are “Shall X be retained?” Unless you deal with judges all the time, how are you supposed to know who to vote for? (Most of us work out a system for that: Mary votes for the women, I vote for the Irish and the Jews.)
  9. The process is rigged. There are districts in the United States where they get 110% turnout on Election Day. I lived in Chicago, where stories of the dead and imaginary people voting are legendary. There is really no way to validate that every vote in an election was cast by an eligible voter, and the politicians seem fine with that. In that case, why even bother?
  10. It only encourages them. Casting a ballot to elect someone who ran a sleazy, negative campaign to be elected only emboldens them to do it again, and it sends the messwage that it’s all right to do the same thing in other elections. If a candidate feels that he can get away with bad behavior, he’ll keep doing it.

Again, these are nothing more than reasons people have given for not voting in elections. I’m not saying I agree with them. I’m also not saying that you should stay home on Election Day. By all means, show up and cast your ballot, or take advantage of absentee balloting or early voting, and make your voice heard. At the same time, these are legitimate concerns that no one is taking seriously, let alone working to resolve, and this frustrates the people who elected the people who can change the system. I’m afraid it’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Anyway, there’s your Thursday Ten for October 23, 2014.

BATTLE OF THE BANDS: “Cry Me A River” results

BATTLE OF THE BANDS! (BOTB Top Photo)

So, last week I chose the song “Cry Me A River,” a torch song popularized by Julie London in the 1950’s and recorded many times since, including the contestants from last week, Joe Cocker and Michael Bublé. Cocker’s version was done during the “Mad Dogs and Englishmen” tour in 1969-70 and was a blues-rock version arranged by Leon Russell, the guy in the green top hat in the video. Bublé’s was a Big Band version, sung with the appropriate Vegas-style bombast. I purposely didn’t give you any obvious choices, including Julie London’s original (which would have been my choice, as it is a classic, both for Ms. London’s vocal and Barney Kessel’s remarkable guitar playing) and Ella Fitzgerald’s version from the early 1960’s (she would have sung the song in Pete Kelly’s Blues, had they decided to keep it). I could have put Julie up against Ella with this, but chose not to; both women are remarkble singers, but their versions are not that different from each other.

This appeared, from many of the comments I received, to have become a contest between “NOT Joe Cocker” and “NOT Michael Bublé”. In the end, Not-Cocker beat Not-Bublé by almost a 2-1 margin. The tallies:

Cocker 5
Bublé 8

My own choice wouldn’t have made a difference, but I would have chosen Joe Cocker’s version. It was the first version I heard, he was backed by some of the best sidemen of the late 1960’s-early 1970’s (Leon Russell, Chris Stainton, Bobby Keys, Jim Keltner, Carl Radle) and a number of fine singers (including Rita Coolidge and Claudia Lennear), and it was an interesting take on the song. But I don’t give myself a vote.

Okay! So, we’ll see you back here on the first of next month. Rock on!

Two for Tuesday: Wes Montgomery

John Leslie “Wes” Montgomery had a unique style on the guitar, starting with the way he played the instrument. He played with his thumb, his other fingers splayed across the pickguard and bottom of the guitar. He developed that technique so as not to disturb his neighbors when he was practicing late into the night after a shift at the factory. He developed a large, sharp callus on the thumb that worked as well as a pick, anyway. His solos generally employed single-note lines drawn around scale and arpeggio lines, lines that employed octaves, and chord-melody lines that used block chords.

He recorded his first albums for Riverside from 1958 to 1964, then moved to Verve in 1964 and A&M Records in 1967. The Riverside albums, particularly The Incredible Jazz Guitar, are considered jazz classics. When he moved to Verve, he steered away from jazz and played more pop tunes, often backed by a full orchestra, while continuing to play in a small-group setting in clubs.

Wes never felt comfortable away from his hometown of Indianapolis, and lived there with his wife and 8 children between trips. He woke up on the morning of June 15, 1968 and told his wife that he didn’t feel right. Within minutes, he had suffered a fatal heart attack. He was only 45 years old when he passed.

Today’s songs show Wes from both his small-group days and from his orchestra-backed days. First is Thelonius Monk’s “Round Midnight,” a televised performance with a quartet, but I know little more than that. Then, “Bumpin’ on Sunset,” from his 1966 Verve release Tequila, with an orchestra conducted by Claus Ogerman.

Wes Montgomery, your Two for Tuesday, October 21, 2014.