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Jewish World Review August 8, 2001 / 19 Menachem-Av 5761

Don Feder

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Consumer Reports

Non-voters advance democracy -- Bipartisan reform commissions usually pair Democratic conmen with Republican chumps.

The National Commission on Federal Election Reform (ex-Presidents Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford honorary co-chairs) was no exception. Last week, the commission presented its report to President George W. Bush. Instead of skirting the quicksand, Bush marched in up to his neck by warmly and thoroughly embracing the report.

Besides Ford -- who, in 1980, warned the GOP that nominating Ronald Reagan would be disastrous -- the commission included such clueless Republicans as ex-House Minority Leader Bob Michel, along with Democratic operators like former White House chief of staff Leon Panetta. If you've ever seen a hick being fleeced at a carnival game-of-chance, you'll have an idea of how it went for Republican rubes.

The commission started with the assumption that there was something terribly wrong with the way voting was conducted in the last election. Truth be told, the fault lies not in our butterfly ballots but with those who couldn't cast them correctly.

The commission is upset that networks are forecasting elections before polls close in the West. (Who isn't?) But it suggests that perhaps Congress should ban the practice. What a great way to celebrate democracy -- by partially suspending the First Amendment on Election Day.

It urges television networks to provide five minutes of free airtime nightly to major party presidential candidates for the month preceding the election. Hearing from Al Gore every evening in October would have actually depressed the 2000 turnout, by provoking mass suicide.

The commission also wants states to institute something it calls "provisional voting." It would work this way: Someone shows up at a polling place who isn't on the voter rolls. He's allowed to vote anyway. His eligibility is determined latter.

In a close election, provisional ballots could exceed the margin of victory. The winner would depend on how many of the maybe votes are counted. There would follow weeks of uncertainty, litigation and other ugliness. It's a recipe for mini-Floridas all over the country.

The panel proposes making Election Day a national holiday by moving Veterans Day to the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president "thinks that there are some compelling reasons" for this, but wants to hear from veterans groups.

G-d forbid voters should in any way be inconvenienced. In most states, you're automatically registered when you renew your driver's license. Absentee ballots are readily available.

Polling places are open from eight in the morning to eight at night. How hard is it to stop at a location a few miles from your home?

Why it might take a whole half hour of your time to exercise your democratic franchise. But that's too burdensome, says the bipartisan committee. We need a national holiday to facilitate the arduous process. If citizens have a day off, maybe -- just maybe -- more of them will make it to the polls.

If they don't, little loss. Most of the people who don't vote, shouldn't.

The Census Bureau determined that in 1996, 74 percent of individuals in households with incomes in excess of $75,000 a year voted, compared to 32 percent of those with annual incomes of less than $10,000. The former are net taxpayers -- the latter, principal consumers of government services.

Non-voters are less likely to be educated, involved or aware of candidates and issues. How much of a tragedy is it if someone who thinks a "drug-free America" means he's entitled to free drugs doesn't vote?

These folks tend to fall hard for Democratic moonshine. They think tax cuts are bad because government needs our money more then we do. They believe in Santa Claus, the tooth fairy and the Social Security trust fund.

They are convinced that Kennedys love the poor, Hillary Rodham Clinton cares about our children and Bad Boy Bill was the greatest president since Abraham Lincoln.

That Democrats are eager to drag these innocents to the polls is understandable. That some Republicans share this passion is perplexing.

The system isn't broken. If it's fixed the way the commission proposes, the fix would indeed be in.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. He is also available as a guest speaker. To comment on this column please click here.

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© 2001, Creators Syndicate