Last month I wrote about “civic disaster behavior” and what we could each do to counteract it. Here’s a great opportunity — Election Day is Tuesday!

Election Day is a quintessential American civic festival. Think about it:

You arrive at your community center, fire station, local school, or wherever you vote. You’re greeted by candidates, advocates, petition signature-gatherers and their friends. They want to talk to you, they want to shake your hand. Then you go in and study the ballot sample. You’re greeted by the cheerful poll workers and directed to the voting booths. If you’ve been a resident for awhile you probably know most of the folks, and if you’re new, they want to meet you. You vote on the candidates and the issues. You check to ensure you put the marks in the right places. This is satisfying!

If you are very lucky, some group is having a benefit cookie and sandwich sale next door. You might see lots of friends and neighbors, or even make some new acquaintances. That’s the festive part.

And of course, the civic part — you will have a say on who will be the next mayor, congress-critter, governor or president (depending on the year) and you will help to make a decision on important referendum issues. Maine has a pretty good record of voter participation, but there are too many elections that happen with too few of us voting.

So, if you have not made a habit of participating in this Election Day civic festival, I urge you to get started on Tuesday.

Elections are always important, and this time there’s a People’s Veto question — Question 1 on the ballot — on same-day voter registration. It seems to have arisen out of the kind of fear-mongering and demagoguery that I was deploring last time. There does not seem to be a problem with town clerks’ workload on Election Day, and the allegations of widespread voter fraud turned out to be baseless. And anyway, why wouldn’t we want to make it as convenient as possible for people to carry out a major civic responsibility?

There’s a whole new study called “behavioral economics” that suggests how people and societies can encourage behaviors that are beneficial. We already do some of these things. If we want people to save for retirement, we make enrolling in a savings plan or pension plan easy, even automatic. If people ought to pay their income taxes, then withholding a small amount each time from a paycheck makes payment a whole lot easier than paying a huge lump sum once a year. (This is why the property tax feels so especially awful — they send you that honking big bill and you’d better pay it all now, or else.)

So, if you want people to vote, then make it easy for them to register when they actually have the motivation to go to the polls — namely, on Election Day. Voting has been like that in Maine for a long time. Why make a good civic behavior harder?

And never mind the line about you did it the old hard way and so can everybody else. If we can figure out a better way to do something, or keep a good invention, why not just do it? Isn’t that the American way?

If you agree with my line of reasoning, be sure to vote Tuesday. (This time, because of this very People’s Veto process, you can still register the same day at the polls!) If you don’t agree, be sure to vote Tuesday.

Just don’t stay home.

People and parties from all across the political spectrum often worry about getting out “their” vote and even getting those “other” voters to stay home. This is because we don’t have an established civic culture about everybody voting every time.

Maybe if we all knew that on Election Day we were all going to vote, we might progress to real arguments and real information on the candidates and issues, and forget about the attacks, smears, spins and lies. Wouldn’t that be a refreshing change?

Theodora J. Kalikow is president of the University of Maine at Farmington. She can be reached at [email protected]


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