I had a good idea. It would not be terribly difficult to do. It would cost almost nothing. It would make our country better. But then I thought more about this good idea. It was not so good. It could make things worse. However, I am not ready to give up my idea completely. There might be a useful germ in it, but I don’t know how to crack the nut open to get it out. Perhaps you can. My idea has to do with the census, voting, and federal aid.
States have an incentive to have every one of its residents counted in the census. The census determines how many Representatives a state will have in the House of Representatives. The greater the population of a state, the greater the number of votes it has in Congress. Both the majority and minority parties in a state have a good reason for everyone to be counted so that the state has as much power in Congress as possible.
The census is also used by the federal government in another way. Various statutes apportion funds states get from the national government by using census numbers. The greater the population in a state, the more federal aid it gets. This, too, gives a state an incentive to have everyone in its borders counted.
In contrast, we all have an incentive to decrease the number of voters. If ten people vote in an election, each holds one-tenth of the electoral power. If, however, only nine people vote, each of those nine voters has a little more power than before. Each voter becomes more influential when others don’t or can’t cast a ballot.
This dynamic is true no matter what the voter’s political persuasion, but the incentives to suppress the votes of those who have different political interests from you is even greater. Perhaps the first rule of politics is that those in power seek to remain in power. One way to do that is to discourage voting by those not in your party. Of course, the Buncombe First party cannot simply prohibit votes for the Buncombe Forever party, but if Buncombe First believes that legislation making it harder to vote will more likely keep Foreverites from voting than Firsters, the Buncombe First party has an incentive to enact such requirements. Of course, such voter suppression makes our country less democratic.
States have an incentive to have all who live there counted, but those who don’t really trust majoritarian rule have an incentive to suppress the votes of some. If they can target voter suppression, they stay in power and don’t lose Representatives or federal funds.
However, I thought, what if we allocated federal moneys not by census numbers but instead by the numbers who voted in each state in the last presidential election? Then states would have an incentive to get out the vote. A state would pay a price for restrictive voter identification laws, insufficient polling places, difficult registration requirements, and the like. The controlling party in a state would have to decide if the loss of federal funds was worth voter suppression measures. For a few moments, I thought allocating federal funds on the number of voters in a state was an idea worth pursuing in order to make the country more democratic.
Then, however, I was struck by an uncomfortable reality. Non-citizens and children, although counted in the census, cannot vote. States with more immigrants and kids would be penalized under my proposal compared to the present methods. If two states each had one million population according to the census, they would now be treated equally under the present allocation formulas, but if State of Fredonia had 100,000 non-citizens while State of Buncombe had only 25,000, Buncombe would have a larger voting base. Even if both states took exactly the same steps to have as many people vote as possible and even if the same percentage of the voting eligible population in each state did vote, Buncombe would get more federal funds than Fredonia. That would not be fair.
With this new insight, I abandoned my modest, radical proposal, but it keeps gnawing at me. There ought to be a way to use the numbers or percentages who vote in each state to allocate federal funds, encouraging the spread of this democracy we claim to love. Aha, I said, “My readers. They have to be smart, creative people or else they would not read this blog (and, of course, they are good looking, too.) Maybe they can find a way to do it.”
So readers, what about it? If you can think of a way to incentivize the states to make voting easier, more universal, and thereby Make Our Democracy Great Again, let me know. Then I will trademark MODGA and sell appropriate apparel. The prices will be fair, but this being America, a profit for me will be built in. If the clothing becomes as trendy as I expect, perhaps I will be able to retire.