The liberal lion John Kenneth Galbraith summed up the attitude well 21 years ago when he declared, "If everybody in this country voted, the Democrats would be in for the next 100 years."
There's one hitch: it's simply not true. The best studies on this question suggest that at the national level, the political differences between voters and nonvoters are minimal. As election analyst Stu Rothenberg put it a decade ago, "There is no compelling evidence that nonvoters are so distinct from voters that they constitute a bloc ready to alter the fundamental balance of power in this country."
If more liberals took this fact to heart, they might be more open to a better way to improve our civic health: make voting more difficult. I can already smell the hate mail.
Look, I am as opposed as anyone to writing bigotry into electoral law. But perhaps the reason why so many people hold their votes so cheap is that their votes are, in fact, cheap. A heartbeat and existence on this planet for 18 years are the only qualifications to vote for American citizens.
What would be so bad about discrimination, properly understood? Not based on race or income, but on knowledge and commitment. Every election year, the race comes down to "the undecideds," many of whom are undecided because they don't pay attention, don't much care and are still vexed by the task of discerning the difference between Republicans and Democrats. These are our kingmakers?
Would it be so awful if voters had to pass the same test of basic civic literacy that immigrants must pass to become citizens? What if we made the right to vote something to brag about? Something to aspire to? Is high turnout among people willing to hawk their vote for an iPod really that much better than high turnout among people who hold their franchise dear?