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Columns > HeadCount

Published: 2008/08/22
by Court Scott

Dispelling Myths About Voter Registration

Hey, hows it going? Are you registered to vote? I ask each passer-by as the band du jour plays from the stage. My name is Court and Im with HeadCount. Is all your voter registration information current? Here in Seattle, a majority of concert-goers are indeed registered and do actually vote. Most of my registrations are from people who have recently moved; either within the area, or are new to Washington. Yes, thats correct; you DO have to update your information each time you move or, ladies, if you get married and change your last name. But there is a segment of the crowd at each event Ive worked who do not want to register to vote. Who are these hold-outs and why dont they seem to care?
I have encountered situational resistance from people; I am at a concert, not in voting mode. Dude, I am not asking you to vote, I am asking if you would like to register to vote at another time. Government doesnt work, The system is broken, My vote doesnt count, or My state always goes red (Republican) or blue (Democrat), so why bother? are all common replies to my initial approach. While I hold back from saying what I really think: indeed, government may in some cases be broken, but that doesnt mean that you should give up on it; or that the system is undeniably flawed, but each of us given proper motivation has the fantastic opportunity to change it; that of course your vote doesnt count if you dont cast your ballot, silly! And if your state always votes red or blue, dont worry; there are plenty of local and state elections in which you should participate. Plus, its about exercising one of your most basic rights as a United States citizen and making your voice heard.
Some people are concerned, feeling that they dont know enough about politics to make an informed decision. I understand that the electoral process can be a bit daunting, but its really quite easy to get information about candidates and issues, there are numerous resources at a voters disposal. Most metropolitan areas publish a voters guide with information on where all the candidates in a specific election share their views. Many candidates receive endorsements from local media or civic groups, which can be a good way to gauge their past and future effectiveness. And there is always talking with your friends or looking online to research candidates, initiatives, or referendums. All voting requires is an educated opinion and the will to voice it.
There are people who resist registering because theyre convinced that they will be called for jury duty, having to disrupt their work schedules indefinitely, corralled in a stuffy courthouse with a bunch of their fellow citizens and rewarded with a sum that actually decreases their weekly income. In reality, if you have a drivers license, pay utility bills, or own property, youve already been entered in that special lottery. Besides, jury duty can be cool and it may be the single most effective deterrent to committing crimes.
Along the same lines, I have encountered many people who believe they cant register because they have a felony conviction on their criminal record. In some instances, though, those convicted of a felony can have their right to vote reinstated. For instance, someone in Washington state, convicted of a felony, subsequently released and no longer on probation can petition the court to have his right to vote reinstated. It varies from state to state, but just because you have something on your record from the past doesnt necessarily affect your voting future.
I have gotten tons of positive response from people, too. At almost every Headcount event someone comes up to the table and thanks me for volunteering to register people. People have even tried to buy me beers to show their thanks. Up here in the Pacific Northwest, we tend to get a fair number of Canadians at shows and they love to tell me who theyd vote for were they Americans. For people from another democracy to care enough to want to vote in our election also thrills me. I understand that exercising your right not to vote is a way of making a statement, but I have yet to encounter what I feel is a well-reasoned argument against voting.
The worst response, though, to the question Are you registered to vote? are snarky responses like Im trying to quit, the to the point I dont vote, or the blow off of Ill do it later. Well, buddy, youd better do it soon because though the cutoff for mail in voter registration varies by state, most have a 30 day ahead of time limit and the election is November 4th you do the math. The most offensive – not only to me personally, but to my sense of community – is people who, when they are asked to register, say F*ck voting as they slink away without even looking me in the eye. By and large, though, those who arent registered already do eventually come around. I had one guy born in 1964 register for his first time with me at a Los Lobos show. I guess that was just his day, and that is what makes this so rewarding for me, personally. Thanks for registering with HeadCount, I told him. You should receive your registration card in 4-6 weeks. Use it in good health. And then I am on to the next person, Are you registered to vote? Is your information current?

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