FLORENCE GILKESON: Allow Registration On Election Day?
The candy bar was stale.
At least, a coworker tried one and so declared. Nevertheless, the strategy was clever.
Earl Ruth, a college athletic director, was running for the 8th Congressional District some 30 years ago. A Republican in a largely Democratic district, he served one term and was dismounted two years later by Democrat Bill Hefner.
Ruth's campaign people came up with a cute idea. They sent Ruth's very attractive wife and two teenage daughters into the district with handbags embroidered with "Elect My Daddy, Earl Ruth" or "Elect My Husband, Earl Ruth."
Better still, they dispensed Baby Ruth candy bars.
In one of those flashbacks common with us older folks, I suddenly recalled that incident so long ago when I read a column from the Common Sense Foundation promoting same-day registration. The nonprofit foundation, which leans heavily into the liberal camp, is an organization I respect and with whom I usually agree.
This time I don't agree. It's possible that I'm not even in agreement on this issue with the venerable League of Women Voters, of which I am a member.
Same-day registration sounds good. It sounds convenient. Just how well it would work is an unknown in North Carolina. Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maine and New Hampshire are same-day registration states that Common Sense credits with record voter turnout in 2004.
Nevertheless, I see technical entanglements. Today's dependence on computers might make it easier to carry out this procedure, but it would still take additional personnel and could lead to congestion and confusion on Election Day.
I'm not among those who fear same-day registration would encourage fraud. Nor am I concerned about the groups that would benefit from the convenience, or who might suffer.
My concern centers on ballot knowledge.
True, many a non-voter takes a sudden interest in a subject or a candidate within hours of the opening of polling places. How convenient it would be to register and vote while the topic is fresh in the mind. Then you wouldn't have to vote again in your lifetime, or not vote again until self-interest or pressure propels you back to the ballot box.
The dream of those who pontificate about good government and voter education is for an informed electorate. By that, we mean people who keep up with the issues and vote their convictions, rather than according to political party and self-interest.
Dream on. I look at the issues. I think about the candidates, frequently in terms of who is likely to do least damage if elected. Then I make up my mind and probably vote the same way I've voted for years.
I hear people say they vote for the individual, not the party. Then I listen to their reasoning, and it is clear their vote has little to do with individual, party or issues.
Good examples are nonpartisan offices on the ballot, the Board of Education, for example. More recently statewide judicial offices are nonpartisan. They aren't really nonpartisan. The candidates' parties simply are not categorized on the ballot. The parties openly support the candidates who are registered to their parties.
So much for that high-minded goal.
But getting back to former Congressman Ruth's beautiful family and the candy bars.
What reminded me of that incident was the late Dr. Donald Miller, a longtime seminary friend of my husband. Dr. Miller had just moved to Laurinburg to become pastor of the Laurinburg Presbyterian Church.
A big, jolly man, he balanced sharp wit with insightful concern for people.
Approached on a street by the two Ruth teens, he replied: "I can't vote for your daddy, but I can eat your candy bar."
I have no idea whether Dr. Miller was a Democrat or a Republican. We never discussed politics. I do know that he loved to eat, and if the Baby Ruth bar was stale, he was too diplomatic to say so.
He meant that he had not lived in the community long enough to register and vote for the father of the two lovely young women.
Same-day registration has the potential of encouraging votes on the basis of a candy bar.
Florence Gilkeson can be reached at 947-4962 or by e-mail at email@example.com.
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