I finally got around to getting a Kentucky driver’s license this week and I had the unexpected opportunity to put my political science training to good use (which, admittedly, does not happen very often).
I was in the driver’s license office at the Boyle County Courthouse in Danville and the very helpful ladies helping me with my license application inquired as to why I had moved to the area. I told them that I was working as a political science professor at Centre. Thinking that I might have some insight on the matter, they asked me why it was that they were required to give people the opportunity to register to vote at the driver’s license office when the auditor’s office was just a few steps down the hall. DING DING DING! “Oh, because of the Motor Voter Act!”
I continued: “the thinking when the law was passed was that since re-registering to vote is not at the top of everyone’s radar screen when they move to a new area (or since many are not sure where to go even if they did want to re-register), it would make it easier for them if they could do it when they got a new driver’s license, which IS at the top of most people’s ‘to-do’ list when they move to a new area.” I am always happy to be a proselytizer for practial applications of political science.
Ironically, however, even though the Motor Voter Act may have helped voting registration to increase around the country over the last two decades, it has not seemed to have much of an effect on actual rates of voter turn-out at the polls. From this we can surmise that the inconveniences of registration is not the chief reason that people don’t vote in the U.S. As has been said (and perhaps especially appropriate to say in Kentucky), you can lead a horse to water…