Archive for Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Beal: A modest proposal to encourage voting

July 29, 2008

In 1727 Jonathan Swift, the great English satirist, offered a plan to rid the streets of Dublin of great numbers of "beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms."

Swift's essay, "A Modest Proposal For Preventing the Children of Poor People in Ireland from Being a Burden to Their Parents or Country, and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public," bemoaned the poverty that gripped Ireland. He saw a way to alleviate it and get the beggars off the streets. He offered his solution in the ninth paragraph:

"I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London, that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout."

Serving up the nation's poor babies, Swift wrote with tongue in cheek, would cut down on overpopulation, add to the wealth of the nation and encourage the institution of marriage among the poor.

Of course nothing ever came of this. The Irish eventually got rid of many of their poor by sending great numbers of them to America, but that would come more than 100 years later.

Now, after the passage of almost 300 years, I have a modest proposal of my own. I don't propose that we eat our children, but some may find it almost as drastic if they were to be subject to it.

This idea came to me this morning as I was listening to the radio. For years in this country thoughtful people have lamented the fact that here in the cradle of democracy, so few Americans vote. Since the end of World War II, average voter turnout in America has been less than 50 percent.

On the radio this morning, a reporter was asking people whether they supported the public-safety sales tax measure that will be on the ballot next week. Voters will be asked to extend a quarter-cent sales tax for which the county will use its half for public-safety measures, such as a new jail and a regional crime lab.

One of the women interviewed said that she probably wouldn't vote in the local election but that generally she wasn't in favor of taxes with no sunset. What upset me most was the clear implication that "local matters" weren't important enough for her attention.

Well, here's my "Modest Proposal." If the technology doesn't yet exist to do this, it should be available soon. If this woman and all those others who can't bother to register or to vote don't want to bother, fine. Let's just provide county and municipal services to those who do vote. Just so we don't go too far overboard we could, for example, monitor who goes to the polls and withhold services from those who miss two consecutive elections.

If your house catches fire and the computer reveals that you didn't vote in the last two elections, the fire truck will still come - but only to make sure that the fire doesn't spread to the property of your neighbors who did exercise their civic duty.

You say your house was burglarized? The police may take a report, but the information will be used only if it helps catch someone who victimized a voter.

We could even do the same with water and sewer services, or with emergency medical services or any number of services provided by government.

It probably wouldn't take too long for people to fall in line, either. Once a few homes burned to the ground, or people found that other municipal services they had relied upon were no longer available, I suspect a lot more would find it expedient to find their way to the polls on Election Day.

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