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October 26, 2012

Nonvoters are trying to tell us something

WASHINGTON — If you're a Republican, you probably don't like it when people say nasty things about your candidate. If you're a Democrat, you get steamed when the other side insults your president or your party.

But there's one electoral bloc that both parties can vilify at their leisure: those U.S. citizens who refuse to vote. They are routinely derided as stupid, or lazy or hapless.

By now, many Americans have already figured out that there are problems with the way they vote. Start with the fact that some people's votes count more than others. The presidential vote on Nov. 6 is shaping up to be a pretty tight contest, so it's entirely possible that the final tally will be close. But, as anyone who's heard of the electoral college already knows, U.S. presidents aren't elected on the basis of the popular vote. (Remember Florida in 2000?) So there's already plenty of editorial anguish over the inherent unfairness of this arrangement.

And then there's the controversy over registration. Republicans, warning against vote fraud, have introduced laws across the country that raise the bar for voter registration. Critics of these efforts point out that these laws address a kind of fraud that is unlikely to occur, and gloss over the type that is much more threatening (namely, the wholesale manipulation of electronic voting machines). Such critics accuse the Republicans of actually trying to suppress the turnout of groups — minorities, the underprivileged, the elderly — who are more likely to vote for Democrats.

These are all legitimate problems. But what I don't understand is why no one is addressing the elephant in the room: the fact that some 40 percent of Americans of voting age don't see any reason to cast their votes on election day at all.

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