By Rod Miller, columnist
Voter fraud is NOT the greatest threat to our republic, but voter apathy certainly is. The former is a glitch in our democratic process that through history has been present, but nowhere near prevalent enough to be a widespread threat. The latter poses a real risk to a nation operating under democratic principles.
We have laws against voter fraud intended to protect the sanctity of the voting booth. They need to operate as they were intended. But we have no laws against voter apathy which poses the greater threat to democracy.
There are, as we speak, 445,000 citizens of Wyoming of voting age. As of last election, 278,000 actually cast votes. For fact-checkers out there, these numbers are provided by the Wyoming Secretary of State’s Office, and the Wyoming Dept. of Administration and Information, Economic Analysis Division.
Simple math reveals that 38% of eligible voters in Wyoming didn’t even bother to vote. That means that roughly one out of every three people you meet in Wyoming chose not to exercise their franchise and to participate in our collective political life.
I didn’t check nationwide numbers, but knowing Wyoming folks, I’ll hazard a guess that we’re doing better in that regard than the rest of the country. But more than a third of us not caring enough to vote? Give me a break!
Solon, often called the Father of Western Law, was the lawgiver in Athens about 2500 years ago. He amended the often brutal constitution of his predecessor, Draco, to be much more democratic and inclusive. It is from Draco that we get the adjective “draconian”.
One of Solon’s laws mandated that every eligible citizen in Athens must participate in their democracy or forfeit their citizenship. His reasoning was that, in political controversies, one side or the other is bound to win, but Solon didn’t want that victory to come about because of citizens’ apathy. He recognized that excluding any part of the population from decision-making would give more power to organized factions.
Contrast Solon’s view of democracy with our own in the United States. And don’t give me any of that “we don’t live in a democracy” crap. I know exactly where I live.
Our own “Great Experiment” began by limiting the franchise to wealthy, Anglo-Saxon landowners. We have spent the last couple hundred years expanding that to include everyone else through Constitutional amendments and federal laws.
I sure as hell wouldn’t have blamed a woman living in the early 19th century for feeling apathetic about voting. By law, she couldn’t vote. The same could be said for a black man in Alabama. What better way to foster voter apathy?
But our better American angels have, over time, broken down those barriers to citizen participation. In theory, at least.
Today, because so many noses got out of joint as a result of the 2020 election we see the “organized factions” that Solon condemned erecting once again barriers to full citizen participation. (Please note that, throughout this screed, I’m careful to use the term “citizen”).
Limiting polling places by demography, curtailing absentee voting, imposing strictures on registration and other knuckleheaded notions to counter “voter fraud” will do nothing more than make it more difficult for citizens to exercise their rights. I can think of no better way to increase voter apathy.
This approach will enable political victories that are not based upon the will of the citizens, but upon one faction or another successfully manipulating the process.
Call me old-school, and accuse me of having my head stuck in Athenian history, but I think a better solution would be to encourage the 170,000 eligible Wyoming voters who sat it out last time to fulfill their obligations as Wyoming citizens. We won’t accomplish that by making it harder to participate.
And then, once we have every eligible Wyoming voter engaged in our democratic process, we can worry about fraudulent votes.