October 12, 2018 | Reading Time: 4 minutes

Yes, We Get the Government We Deserve

Liberals hate that expression, but don't blame me. Blame people who don't vote.

Share this article

Brian Kemp is the Republican candidate for Georgia governor running against Democrat Stacey Abrams. He’s also the secretary of state, the official in charge of voter rolls. Ideally, he would recuse himself from involvement in the duties of his current office while running for the state’s highest office. He isn’t.

Instead, there are about 53,000 registration applications pending approval, almost all from black voters, according to analysis by the Associated Press. That means the umpire, who is supposed to call balls and strikes impartially, is calling balls and strike for his team. And that’s why Georgia is all of a sudden getting a lot of attention.

Kemp’s corruption distills what the peerless Paul Waldman calls the entire point of Republican voting laws. The Post columnist said: “Republicans claim to worry about ‘voter fraud,’ and journalists dutifully repeat those claims because when one party says something over and over, you’re supposed to treat it as though it is serious.

But everyone knows it’s nonsense. Voter fraud is almost nonexistent, and Republicans aren’t motivated by some deeply held abstract principle about the integrity of elections that they apply whether it helps them or not.

It’s just a lie.

Paul is right, of course, but we should be careful. In expressing outrage for citizens being cheated out of their right to self-government, liberals run the risk of deepening distrust in the whole enterprise. That’s especially true if we’re wrong.

It looks like we were wrong. It turns out, those 53,000 voters can still vote, according to the ACLU of Georgia. It said that “all voters who have pending registration applications can still cast a regular ballot by presenting photo identification.”

This is from a Pro Publica outlet:

Liberals are missing another angle to this story.

It can’t be repeated enough that liberals and Democrats are too focused on voter registration and not focused enough on people already registered. Citizens already registered, but who have not voted in four years, are more receptive to shaming and other forms of persuasion than people who are not already registered.

This is because of a difference in culture. Registered voters already believe voting matters. They just need to be nudged with the right incentives. Unregistered voters, however, typically do not believe voting makes a difference in their lives. Why that’s the case is for another time. What’s important now is that that’s the case. Because resources are always limited, it’s best to make wise choices. The wisest choice would be for voter turnout activists to turnout already registered voters.

Now, one of the reasons already registered voters do not vote in every election (as they should) is because many of them are under the impression that they must be informed in order to vote. This is especially the case among young registered voters. According to a HuffPost/YouGov survey, voters under the age of 29 say by a 2-to-1 margin that only well-informed people should vote while older voters have no such qualms.

What does “informed” mean? I can’t read minds, but usually that means citizens taking the time to look at each individual candidate’s policy proposals and deciding which is better. Jonathan Bernstein refreshingly calls this balderdash.

For voting, no one should have to do more than figure out what it is they feel strongly about—perhaps the group one feels closest to when it comes to politics. It could be anything: an ethnicity, a gender, an ideology, an economic interest, a religion, a specific policy question. There’s no right answer; it’s just a question of how you self-identify when you’re thinking about politics. Then figure out which party is likely to fight for that group, and vote for all of that party’s candidates.


In other words, all you have to do is look at which party the candidate is from, and vote for that person based on his or her party. This is not something Americans typically admit to doing, because Americans have a bad habit of thinking parties are bad. But when you think about it, we’re all ignorant voters. There’s just no way of knowing everything about a candidate or everything about the issues and policies. Normal people don’t have time for that kind of thing. That’s what political parties are for.

As for voter suppression, it’s real. But never let a liberal complain about it without mentioning that voter suppression is not why Democrats lose. Democrats lose, because people who would most benefit from Democratic policies don’t vote. Liberals are right to condemn GOP voting laws. They are immoral. But let’s not forget to put blame where it rightly belongs: in the laps of complacent Democratic voters.

The Times’ David Leonhardt did the homework. He found that voter turnout has remained largely the same in midterms and presidential election years, despite the rise of repressive voter ID laws since 2012. That means that voter suppression laws have had little affect, and that Democrats lose because people just don’t vote.

Liberals are being too nice.

Not only are they not blaming voters for not voting. They are not holding such voters in contempt. I know, I know. Again, so harsh. But look: The New Yorker just published a story about a 5-year-old immigrant girl from Honduras ripped from her abuela at the US-Mexican border and forced to sign away her rights.

I don’t want to hear about chasing away voters with contempt. I want to hear about Americans taking their duty, as citizens, seriously, and putting a stop to evil.

Subscribe today!

The Editorial Board goes out to everyone today, but to subscribers only Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. If you like what you see, now’s the time to subscribe.

To get insight sent directly to their inbox every week day, all they’ve got to do is subscribe. $5 a month or $55 a year! It’s so easy. Today: Get a month free!

Many thanks for supporting the Editorial Board! —John Stoehr

John Stoehr is the editor of the Editorial Board. He writes the daily edition. Find him @johnastoehr.

Leave a Comment

Want to comment on this post?
Click here to upgrade to a premium membership.