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Opinion >  Column

At some point, we have to accept that some folks just won’t register to vote

UPDATED: Tue., Oct. 20, 2020

A voter casts her ballot in 2018 at the downtown Spokane Public Library.  (Libby Kamrowski)
A voter casts her ballot in 2018 at the downtown Spokane Public Library. (Libby Kamrowski)

At the risk of sounding like a grouchy old Boomer, can I suggest now that we have passed National Voter Registration Day – it was last Tuesday – can every political operative and social media app stop asking me if I’m registered?

If I weren’t, there’s a point when more nudging, cajoling and hectoring isn’t going to change that. But I am and have been since I turned 18 in the year that became the legal age to vote (history nerds can now determine my age).

Almost everyone my age whom I knew registered that year because we had made a big deal out of deserving the right to vote if we were subject to being drafted. The constitutional amendment passed in record time. I found my birth certificate, took it to city hall, showed it and my driver’s license and registered to vote.

It was an odd-numbered year so there weren’t any elections where I lived but the next was a presidential year. There were lots of predictions about how the “youth vote” would effect that presidential election, and most of them proved wrong. The pundits thought the youth vote would cost Richard Nixon a second term because he failed to deliver on his promise four years earlier to end the Vietnam War and would be leery of trusting their futures to him for four more years. George McGovern was running on a peace platform.

But Nixon had a good – if clandestinely illegal – campaign operation and McGovern had a terrible one. The economy was good. The war was being “Vietnamized” and most new young voters who had their draft number drawn weren’t getting called up. Nixon won in a landslide.

And 55.4% of voters aged 18 to 24 went to the polls, which was the highest percentage for that age group since.

I’ve been registered, and voted, ever since. But if I had never registered – or registered decades ago and not voted for so long that my registration expired – does anyone seriously think I will change my mind based on requests on Facebook and Twitter and Instagram; reminders in public service announcements on the radio; emails with links to websites that explain the state’s voter registration rules; having late-night talk show hosts or political activists say that I should? If I’ve become particularly happy or perturbed with the president, wouldn’t I have already signed up?

And if I have to be nudged into doing something that is now much easier than it once was – you can register online, no trip to city hall or the courthouse and no digging up a birth certificate or passport – mightn’t somebody have to hold a gun to my head to get me to vote? That is arguably a teeny bit harder. You have to fill in circles, stick the ballot into two envelopes and either put it in the mail or a drop box.

Don’t get me wrong. Everybody should register and vote, the somebodies in control should make that easy and nobody should keep anybody who is eligible from voting. But at a certain point there will always be a few somebodies who aren’t gonna register, and nobody can do anything about it.

When cultural references go wrong

Not long ago, Tim Eyman, Washington’s chief initiative entrepreneur turned failed gubernatorial candidate turned successful candidate’s warmup act, was excoriating Jay Inslee as being “afraid to debate” GOP challenger Loren Culp.

This is a standard charge leveled every campaign season after one candidate says he will debate anywhere, any time, and the other candidate says “let me check my schedule.” While it was true the Inslee campaign spent an inordinate amount of time checking the schedule, they did finally announce one debate and reportedly are looking at a second.

Before that announcement, however, Eyman equated Inslee to a barnyard fowl in various stage appearances to build up Culp before rally crowds. In an email he also suggested the solution to any concerns Inslee had of debating in person was to “bring in the cone of silence.”

On this point Eyman, who is a Gen Xer, makes a mistake that any Baby Boomer would catch. The cone of silence was a gag used in the old “Get Smart!” series that Agent Maxwell Smart always wanted to deploy for private, top secret conversations with The Chief. The running joke was that the cone of silence never worked properly, so they could never figure out what the other was saying.

So while it gave Eyman a cute headline and an interesting image to put on his email – which doubled as a plea for money for his legal defense fund – the cone of silence would be the opposite of what a debate between those two would need.

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