Proving once again that the California Assembly must not have anything really important to do, Assemblyman Joe Coto (D-San Jose) has proposed a bill that would mandate high school students to register to vote before a diploma will be awarded. That’s right, every high school senior will have to be registered to vote in order to graduate. There is so much wrong with this idea I hardly know where to begin. Let’s start with some statistics.
According the California Secretary of State, of the approximately 22.6 million Californians eligible to vote, about 70 percent or 15.8 million were registered as of the November 2006 election. Of those registered, 8.9 million - only 56.2 percent - voted. As a total of all eligible voters, the percentage is a dismal 39.3 percent. Although making kids register to vote might increase voter turnout, it certainly does not guarantee it.
I don’t think I want everyone to vote just because they’re supposed to, compelled to or coerced to. I want them to vote because they want to. These are the people who are paying at least some attention to what’s going on. Sure, many will vote a straight ticket or be persuaded by negative campaign advertising, but even those who vote by picking up on the abundance of cues available, studies show that they are by and large voting their conscience. In other words, having only cursory knowledge of the issues and the candidates is enough to cast an informed ballot.
However, there are those who vote with no idea what they are voting for. It could be the top slot on a ballot - or the bottom. I’d rather not have the electoral process randomized by the uninformed. "Getting out the vote" is misleading - it’s calling us to vote for the sake of voting. But our vote means so much more. I’d rather see informational campaigns that motivate people to inform themselves - and then vote if so compelled by a sense of civic responsibility. How does this bill do that? “Be a good citizen - go register to vote. Oh, and if you don’t, you don’t graduate.” What kind of message is that?
Voting is a right. It’s a responsibility. It’s not a requirement and registering to vote shouldn’t be either. It’s proposals like this that leave me with the feeling of “big brother” breathing down my neck. Surely the right to vote includes the right not to. What’s next? The end of the secret ballot to be sure we all voted. Fines or imprisonment for not being civic minded enough? Who will be the arbiter? Here’s the irony: These idiotic laws are being enacted partly due to a disinterested constituency. How many more before that same constituency ceases to be disinterested?