Voting… the Dark Ages way

Unless I feel particularly inspired, I don’t go out of my way to vote, despite the best efforts of the Strib cartoonist today. Or maybe it wasn’t the cartoonist (is that Sack?) because there’s no signature or copyright on it, which is odd.

But the idea that unless you vote, you don’t have a right to engage in a discussion about the future of the country is flawed logic because it assumes that the choice I’m given is a clear one; that there is a candidate representative of that element of the discourse I could bring to the table, were I not muted by my decision not to vote.

Don’t get me wrong. I “get” the old “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” thing. I just happen to think, yes, you can.

And if we really want people to vote: let’s get the process out of the 19th century.

Think about it: in order to vote, I have to go to a specific physical place and only to a specific physical place at a specific time ( 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.). OK, that sounds easy enough. But, remember: the stated goal is to get people to vote.

Take me this morning: I had a meeting in St. Paul at 11 and I’ll be working later in the evening than usual. I was doing a couple of interviews with people at home for a story I’m writing and when I looked at the clock, it was 10 o’clock and I’m still in my pajamas, banging away on a laptop on the couch while watching a combination of NASA TV and SportsCenter.

I could miss the meeting and be late for work and stop to vote or I could bag voting altogether. If there were a candidate who truly inspired me today, maybe that choice would be easier. But there’s only a few who are kinda, sorta, maybe somebody I’d like to see in office. And, frankly, the only thing that really motivated me to vote today was a local school referendum.

I chose to get to work on time and get to my meeting. And, I’m not driving back to Woodbury to go vote; not at $2.39 a gallon and an additional $7 to park when I finally get back to work. And I’m not going to be home before the polls close. OK, fine, that’s just me. I’m cheap. But this is my life.

So here’s what I’m thinking. Assign me to a particular ward or precinct, but let me vote anywhere at any polling place in Minnesota where I happen to be. Sure, that puts the old “sign here on this big pile of papers of people’s names” job to bed, but so what? It’s not about them. It’s about me.

I can go to any bank branch in the world, it seems, and get my money out. I can use my store credit card at a zillion different locations in the world. But I can only vote in one spot?

Granted it would take — oh, no! — machines and computers to make this happen, but, you know, in 2006, machines and computers are making a lot of things happen and I tend to think they work better than humans.

Heck, give me a card and a pin number. This could work. Trust me. It’s pretty how much how I do my taxes and I haven’t been jailed yet.

Here’s another idea: Don’t have voting machines. Vote at your ATM. Ever get to make two withdrawls and not be charged for one? Me neither.


  • Judy


    I certainly agree with you that voting is still “the Dark Ages” however I wonder if you are willing to spend your money to upgrade the system. Allowing an individual to vote at any precinct would be a visionary idea. But what is the justification much less the return on investment? The future, perhaps but the “voted into office individuals” will influence that decision. You describe some other options but a few of them would require coordination and collaboration between dissimilar enterprises. We can’t even get the FBI and CIA to communicate so what incentive would the banks have?

    I am sure you don’t want my opinion but since you posted, I am going to give it. You could have voted at 7am. Your meeting was not at 8, it was at 11am. Perhaps you would have had to rise a little earlier than usual. The polls were not busy today. No lines, no parking issues, no problem. I voted at 7:30am. You don’t have a reason to not vote, only an excuse and guess what, since you didn’t vote, you can engage in a discussion, you just don’t have any influence. (P.S. influence = power)

  • Bob Collins

    Actually, Judy, I very much want your opinion; that was really the point of the post in the first place. I can listen to myself babble just by looking in the mirror.

    You’re exactly right, of course, that I COULD have voted if I were so motivated either by the inspiration of the candidate or the shere easiness of it fitting into my life.

    But that is my point — and also answers the question of the justification — convenience. When our system of voting was first devised, it was based — it seems to me — on the premise that people usually ARE in one spot. In a way, THAT itself was a response to making voting convenient for them.

    But that was then; this is now. I didn’t want to get up and go vote at 7 principally becuase tonight I’m going to be working until,probably, 2 or 3 in the morning. Could I have? Sure. But the payoff, to me, wasn’t worth losing the sleep.

    Now folks will chortle that I’m some sort of lazy citizen and I’ll save them the trouble; I am. But I’m not a stupid citizen. Put me in a voting booth and I’ll actually bring intelligent thought to my choice — as opposed to those people who DO vote who cast a vote because someone’s name is Scandanavian.

    So it comes down to whether we REALLY want people to vote. If we do, then we will acknowledge that people’s lifestyles are different now than 100 years ago. Online voting? Why not consider it? It makes a tremendous amount of sense.

    Or we can just try to shame people into voting which, to me, is just silly and not a very reasonable solution to a problem that goes beyond people being too stupid or disinterested to vote.

  • MR

    I like that anyone can now request an absentee ballot. Send in a form to your county, they send you a ballot. You fill it out and send it back. That’s it.

    Yes, online voting is something that we need to look at, but until then, the good old USPS does a pretty good job of bringing convenience to you.

  • bsimon

    I can relate to Bob’s position, because I almost bailed on it today too; except I’m so mad at McLaughlin, or whatever his name is, that I had to go vote for someone else for County Commissioner. Fortunately my polling place is 3 blocks from my house and I was driving by anyway.

    Regarding alternatives; why force people to go to any physical location, be it a polling place, ATM, or anywhere else? I believe it is in Oregon that they have gone to mail-in ballots. Talk about making it easy on the voter; I suppose you’d have to leave the couch to actually mail the ballot, but the voting itself can take place right in front of NASA TV, Sportscenter or any of the other fine programming available these days.

  • No, you’re totally right of course, Bob. I mean, a conservative approach to change in important matters is good (in the classic meaning of ‘conservative’), but at some point one needs to move forward. Unless of course the stated goal of “democracy

    ” is not the actual goal of our electoral system.

    Not only ought we already have a secure online voting system by now, but it ought to include a secure private means of storing and recovering your voting history – for example an encrypted database of you votes accessed with your fingerprint and password. With an opt-out option.

    We ought to be able to vote securely online, or over the phone. And there are ways of accomplishing this.

    If we want to.

    But if we want to control and discourage voting, then partisan state secretaries, Republican-owned Diebold equipment, and 19th-century processes are the way to go.

  • eb

    Why not drive back and vote on your lunch or dinner break…you can return and submit a report here (think of it as part of your job). If you do, please let us know how much gas you used because you were too lazy to vote in the morning. There are no excuses for not voting. I’m sick and I voted today.

  • Bob Collins

    Well, of course there ARE excuses for voting. Heck, I’ve made at least 6 of them so far. :*)

    It isn’t a question of whether I could vote. I could vote if, say,the government decided to have a central voting facility in Bemidji. I just wouldn’t if I didn’t feel it was convenient for me to go there. But I’m sure a lot of people could and then tell the rest of us how lazy we are.

    BTW, I don’t take either lunch OR dinner breaks. I bring a big cooler from home everyday and eat at my desk while I work. Much more efficient that way.

    Lunch breaks are for the lazy. (g)

  • Karl

    I can’t believe someone writing a political blog would express such an opinion about voting. And nothing personal, Bob, but that is just plain lazy as you’ve already conceded. Work is no excuse. Your employer must allow you to leave to vote. I bet you would expend considerably more effort to procure a part for your airplane that you needed than you claim to expend exercising your most important duty as a citizen.

    That said, there is a very simple solution to your problem, and we don’t have to wait for secure phone or internet lines. Allow people to vote over a period of two weeks, as Oregon (I think) allows. Or a month. Whatever. What is so sacred about voting on the second Tuesday of November only? Then anybody could find a way to cast their ballot. Even lazy people.

  • Judy


    When you look at that mirror did you ever wonder who or how it was designed?Technology is apparently not your strong suite. Writing is. Let me put it a little simpler.You can’t just flip that magic switch. Someone has to design the systems, make them secure and test for accuracy so you can vote from your living room recliner. Here is a site that seems to be working on it.

    Reading the 500 page document will give you some insight on some issues and perhaps you as the Senior Editor – Online News and the longest-serving editor in the history of MPR and I will see it happen in our lifetime.

  • Bob Collins

    It’s not the first time I’ve written this point about voting and admitting that I often don’t. Although the primary reason I often don’t — and I alluded to this at the beginning — is I don’t believe the candidates are entitled to my vote just because I’m SUPPOSED to vote.

    I think they should have to earn it.

    I also think that after today, for a lot of people, a candidate that DOES inspire them will be OUT of the race. And yet, MORE people will go to the election in which they have fewer choices (for the record, I’m in the 6th District and we’ve got no primary ‘cept for gov and attorney general).

    And you’re right, maybe I would expend more energy to buy an airplane part but here’s the thing: I buy most of my airplane parts online. And when I need stuff, I usually go to a NAPA store. Which one? The one that’s the easiest to get to.

    I can get a few things over at Wipaire at the South St. Paul Airport, but I usually don’t. Too much trouble to get over there, especially with the Wacouta Bridge reconstruction.

    See what I mean?

    If the people who really like to lecture on voting REALLY are interested in having more people vote, they’d stop viewing the voting process the way those people that beat themselves bloody for some religious ritual do.

    Turnout is a combination — and I’ve said of two things (1) the inspiration to vote in the first place (that’s up to the candidates) and (2) the convenience to vote.

    Trying to achieve it without acknowledging either 1 or 2 is foolhardy, imho. People may not like it; but that’s the way it is and the reality they need to acknowledge.

  • Bob Collins

    Technology probably isn’t my forte. But I was talking about htis with a friend of mine this morning. Paul Dye. He’s the lead flight director for the current space shuttle mission (really! Look it up. He’s a Minnesotan). Anyway the reminded me that the technology for the laptop I’m using right now was on the shelf in the ’50s, gathering dust.

    The technology was there, there just wasn’t an acknowledged need for it.

    I wonder how many people who call up the URL you supplied actually print it out first?

  • Judy

    Excuse me! Do you actually think people that are blogging are printing out a link? Normally, I can get a site to automatically set up the link but this blog failed to do that so I gave up.

    It comes down to – you don’t vote. You don’t like the candidates. You don’t like to have to take the time out of your personal life.

    However, you must like the way everything is run. I don’t so in my small way, I try to influence change with my vote. I am just one but together, we who vote can make a difference.

  • What I can’t believe is the attitude of so many respondents. It seems like a really sacred ox is being gored, to mix a metaphor.

    Bob’s post is NOT “why it’s okay I’m not voting today,” folks. Instead he’s pointing out that if voting is as important as we all seem to believe it is, then it ought to be more available than it is. And if it were reasonably more available – say online, like our banking or taxes are – then more people who find themselves in his position today could be voting.

    Voting is the essential right of the citizenry, not a litmus test of the most politically dedicated.

  • Bob Collins

    You missed the point of my invisible nusance, Judy. Let’s take the 500 pages of a PDF file. Have you ever noticed what happens when people get a document to read online. A lot of them print it out, first. Remember, it was supposed to be the paperless society, these computers wrought. But it didn’t turn out that way.

    So they sell printers and paper now, and probably more so than ever. Why? Because that’s what you do to stay in business, you adapt to the lifestyle or preferences of the customer.

    We hear all the time that government should be more like a business. If that’s true, then the citizen is the customer. So why have a system in place that says — and obviously this is a metaphor — “you have to read the document on the screen while sitting at your computer. You can’t print it out.”

    People lifestyles are changing and, sure, the world is full of people to say that lifestyle is wrong or lazy or stupid and wait — fruitlessly — for lazy, stupid, wrong people to adopt the lifestyle of the person doing the judging. But, funny, it usually doesn’t work out that way.

    Precincts and ward voting is quite possibly an outdated model. It’s not a crime to at least think about that possibility.

    Albatross, you nailed it perfectly. So let’s pick it up from there. OK, I didn’t vote. I’m bad. I’m lazy. Got it.

    We can go in two directions. We can keep printing cartoons in the Strib and hope that an illogical argument is enough to compel me to a logical conclusion. We can wait for the once-every-10-years political candidate or issue that so inspires us that people can’t wait to get to the polls, or we can consider infrastructure changes that will make voting likely even in the absence of a logical reason or an inspirational candidate.

    Boy, I sure think the last choice is the most reasoned, especially since it doesn’t preclude the first two.

  • noen

    “I “get” the old “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” thing. I just happen to think, yes, you can.”

    Where did you get this from? A Dilbert cartoon?

    We won’t be allowed to vote from ATM’s, that would make fixing the vote so much harder (re: Greg Palast). Besides, DieBold doesn’t make ATM’s.

  • Judy

    My original comment agreed with “the Dark Ages”. Visionary thinking is fundamental to creating change. I don’t disagree and I didn’t miss a point. Your right, we can consider infrastructure changes that will make voting likely even in the absence of a logical reason or an inspirational candidate.

    But how exactly are you going to get that done?

    You need to vote and support someone that will be responsible enough to submit a bill that will be ratified to make the change. Until the system of voting is changed by those in power, there is only the current choice.

  • Gwen


    I can sympathize with your not voting because you aren’t inspired by any of the candidates on the ballot. That is a big part of why I got involved at the grassroots level of my political party of choice. The political process doesn’t start on primary day, it starts before precinct caucus day when caucuses are being organized, people are being encouraged to run or deciding on their own to run. I’ve been a part of that whole process for a few years, while I may not always be happy with who ends up on the ballot, I at least know that I’m having an influence. While I think it’s important to vote, people who aren’t happy with the choices on the ballot need to get involved in the process before the ballot is printed. Yes, it can be a lot of work, but I think it’s worth it.

    Yes, our voting procedure could be updated/made easier, but perhaps there’s something to be said for not letting the people who are too lazy to drive to a place a mile or so from their house to cast a vote have an influence on who our elected officials are. 🙂

  • ex-FSO

    I’ve witnessed voting in places in the world where they don’t have modern telecommunications, transportation, or even plumbing and electricity; where they don’t have elections a couple of times every year, or even once every four, six, or eight years; where people might get shot or blown up because it happens to be election day.

    People in those places will walk miles to stand in a line in the rain for hours for the chance to cast their vote for someone who probably doesn’t come close to representing “that element of the discourse” they “could bring to the table,” to say nothing of being “a candidate who truly inspired” them. They will overcome their fear that some secret state operative will see how they voted and, depending on who happens to be in or out of power, visit reprisals on them and their families. They will vote in the face of the knowledge that whatever choice they make probably won’t change their lives, or even their children’s lives, for many, many years, if ever.

    How spoiled of us to think we enjoy the luxury of not voting since it’s a little inconvinient to us! How disingenuous of us to complain about how the system is broken, or doesn’t represent us, when taking a few minutes out of a couple of days in the year to express a preference for some candidate for public office is such an awful burden for us!

    Now, go vote.

    P.S. They will also have to show a national ID card before they get a ballot and have their fingers dipped in indelible ink after they cast one.

  • bsimon

    The less blatant beef in Bob’s initial post is the dearth of decent candidates. This I mostly blame on the ingrained two-party system. How many voters leave the polling place describing their choice as the lesser of two evils? Seems like that is an equally important task to address; if the electorate is disenchanted with the option of tweedle dum and tweedle dummer, how do we get a mad hatter on the ballot too?

    Obviously, we have ‘third party’ (and 4th, 5th, etc) candidates on the ballot, but they tend to attract very small numbers of votes. In my opinion this has more to do with an ingrained presumption – on the part of voters – that only the Rs and Ds can win, so the Is, Gs, Ls and others don’t have a chance.

    Some places are moving towards instant run-off elections. I wonder if its time for Minnesota to experiment with those?

  • Bob Collins

    It’s true, ex-FSO, that people who are much “worse off” than we are work harder at voting. That’s obviously true. But in the grand scheme of thing, it’s also irrelevant. As I said before, we have to deal in reality and the reality is we’re not a third world country with bare feet, climbing mountains to go get our thumbs painted blue.

    Is that admirable? Well, of course. Is the fact that people vote here with far less effort admirable? Of course. But your response is too much like the one my parents gave me when I wouldn’t eat my peas growing up. “There’s people starving in China.”

    We didn’t know whether people were or weren’t starving in China but it didn’t matter. IT didn’t change our distaste for peas and THAT’S the reality the people who rightly want a bigger turnout fail to grasp.

    As I said earlier, whether or not I vote fits whether or not voting fits my particular lifestyle and situation. People can “tsk tsk” about that and that’s certainly their right to do so.

    But they shouldn’t wait for anything to change if that’s as far as *they* are willing to go to change it.

    I also discount — categorically — that no change in how people vote can take place until we elect them to office.

    For some reason, I think, we give politicians too much credit for effecting change when, in fact, government is usually the last thing to change — or even understand the need for change — for that matter.

    The first step in changing voter turnout, is to have a dialogue about voter turnout and get it out there. But that doesn’t happen because far too often — as the Strib did today — people ignore the intellectual discussion in favor of cheap points and phony patriotism.

  • Paul Barthol

    Fun commentary; but I’m afraid that Mr. Bob really (for whatever reason)doesn’t want to vote, and uses his writing skill to rationalize the decision. How hard is it to get an absentee ballot? One really doesn’t need a reason to get one, take all the time you need to fill it out, and then mail it in. Try it Bob, you might like it – and it could give you something to write about!

  • Bob Collins

    I think I indicated pretty early on that I wasn’t particularly inspired to vote. But it’s not only that I didn’t “want” to. It’s that I didn’t want to ENOUGH.

    I know the whole absentee ballot thing, but you’re missing my point. Yes, I could’ve gotten up at the crack of dawn. Yes, I could’ve gotten an absentee ballot. Yes, I could’ve been as good as the people in the third-world who voted.

    But I didn’t and I’ve said why I didn’t.

    In many ways, the reason I posted this is because I knew where the thread would go and it did, in fact, go where I want it to go.

    The people who SAY that I should vote — using the Strib cartoon as the jumping off point here — aren’t REALLY that interested in me voting because if they were, they would consider what I’ve said in terms of “how can we get people to vote.” How can we CHANGE our system of voting.

    But they don’t want to change the system of voting, presumably for the same reasons the old timers didn’t want to give up the horse and buggy. They liked their horse and buggy and because they did, they didn’t want those damned newfangled cars on the road.

    Life doesn’t work that way. Change must and will continue to take place and people’s lifestyles will continue to change.

    Let me turn it around and see if this works: “If you’re not interested in considering changes to our voting system, you have no right to complain when people don’t vote.”

    Hopefully you see the ludicrous nature of that statement. But it is no more ludicrous than the one that spawned this thread.

  • The shaming continues, while the kernel of the argument is ignored.

    One of the implications of the First Amendment is that you are, in fact, free to complain, whether or not you voted.

    If voting is important, why isn’t it more available, and better monitored? Hm?

  • Gary

    Hey Bob there are so many ways to get your vote in and counted! You are lazy! There still is no better way in the world to choose our leaders! So “dark ages”? Grow up and figure out a way to make yourself heard in the political world. You “didn’t want to enough” to make an effort to vote. Perhaps you prefer the Hitler rise to power used by tyrants the world around who do not care to have a free population of educated people!

  • No one overtly spoke of voting — or more broadly, civic participation — as a duty. I’m not personally big on being told what my duty is, but I certainly still have a sense of duty in some things. Including voting.

    What made Bob go to his meeting instead of the polls? What will keep him there til 3am? Excitement? Money? Fear of the boss? Or sense of professional duty?

    I don’t disagree on the points about being open to change. But if voting is regarded as a consumer decision or a lifestyle choice only, then we deserve whatever shoddy product turns up on the electoral shelf.

  • Bob Collins

    I don’t know, Charlie. So far, I see quite a few people who voted today, selecting someone on the basis of an Anderson last name.

    Look at it this way. Government spends a lot of money on voter outreach. Except on election day.

    You have to go where the voters are. If the voters are in downtown St. Paul, for example, then let ’em vote in downtown St. Paul.

    Speaking of which. Look at retail downtown. It’s pretty much gone. Why? Because people didn’t want to shop downtown. The stores didn’t stay downtown and say “you come to us.” They went where the shoppers were because it made good sense.

    If the goal is to make as many informed people vote as possible, then our voting system doesn’t make sense because it’s run by government, which isn’t required to make sense.

    (by the way, congratulations to all of you who are coming here to discuss this. I think it’s been a terrific conversation. Thanks to all of you.)

  • Bob Collins

    Well, Gary, I admit I’ve played a bit with the “lazy” tag. But, OK, let’s ignore the fact I work two jobs, have sent my kids to college, have risen to the top of my profession, don’t waste time in bars — except for MOB — or chasing women. Let’s assume that because I went to work today rather than stopping to vote, I’m “lazy.”

    Let’s assume that, although it doesn’t matter because your hyperbole of suggesting the fact I have an actual solution to what people who vote say is a problem — that is, suggesting I’m a supporter of Hitler — is actually one of the things I find utterly frustrating with the political process.

    and, frankly, I find that atittude much more hurtful to the future of democracy than whether I voted.

    Why on earth do you folks always seem to pull the Hitler or Nazi card out at the beginning — or near the beginning — of otherwise intelligence discussions?

    That’s intended to be a conversation stopper, not a conversation starter. And the paradox is I’m being told that reinforcing that mindset with a vote — in other words, supporting people who would rather play the Hitler card than open their minds to considering whether the status quo is the BEST course for our country — is exactly the reason why I find fewer and fewer reasons to vote.

    Your comments betray the ideal that a democratic process considers, discusses and decides.

  • Great topic, and fortunately lots of win-win solutions already exist. In Colorado, for example, they have moved beyond precint-based voting in some areas, creating voting centers where anyone in a county can go – check out Some states have added voting places in shopping malls, while others let you start voting a week or more in advance. There are many creative solutions for busy citizens who want to vote – we just have to use them.

    Minnesota has fallen behind other states in embracing 21st century solutions. If voters give me the priviledge to lead the Office of Secretary of State in the November elections this will change.

  • Mike

    It should be noted that a primary is not in any way shape or form an election. In fact unless you vote straight party ticket in November I would argue that you should not be voting in the primary.

  • Gary is apparently not familiar with Godwin’s Law.

    (Let’s see if the link works…)

    (BC– last time I checked html isn’t allowed in the comments, so I doubt the link will work)