Saturday, January 14, 2017

Motor Voter - How Government Works

The Motor Voter law was designed to make it easier to register to vote.   Which States are failing at it and which are succeeding may surprise you.  Click to enlarge.

I recently went to renew my driver's license at the Georgia DMV (or DDS as they call it here - Department of Driver Services - the registration of cars is handled by the County tax authorities).   It was an interesting, pleasant, efficient, and brief experience.  I was sent a renewal notice by mail (a post card) and encouraged to pre-apply for the renewal online.   We were also advised what documents we would need to comply with post-9/11 hysteria - our old driver's license, a passport, a birth certificate, a social security card, and a piece of mail with our name and home address on it.

As you might expect, a lot of people showed up with nothing but their driver's license and a credit card.   And they fumed and fussed when told this was not enough.   I recounted before about how a man at the Virginia DMV in Arlington held up the line while he went through a meltdown, screaming at the entry clerk that he "didn't have time" to go back home to get these documents.

I finally tapped him on the shoulder and he turned and shouted, "WHAT?"

I then calmly explained to him that three of the 9/11 hijackers got their fake IDs standing in line right where he is standing right now, and that the clerk behind the kiosk was not authorized - nor was anyone in the building authorized - to make an exception for him, and that he might as well spend the 15 minutes of screaming and arguing, pulling out hair and rending garments, just driving back to his condo in Foreclosure Mews Estates and getting the damn documents.

The clerk mouthed the words, "thank you" as he left.

We saw the same kind of arguing and negotiating - on a lesser level - at the DDS here in Georgia, although people today realize that arguing with authorities over procedures is about a pointless and dangerous as arguing with a TSA agent or a flight attendant.   You make a scene, you're not getting on that plane to Poughkeepsie. 

I had been forewarned about the Social Security card thing by another oldster (yes, technically, I am one of them now) and applied for a card online.  DDS also has a "mini-Social Security Office" onsite, consisting of a computer terminal.  If you didn't have your social security card, you could apparently get one there at the office, as several people who were booted from line apparently did.

Social Security cards, by the way, are the lamest form of ID - a piece of cardboard with your name and number on it.   I never had one as a kid, as I am sure my alcoholic mother lost it - as she did my birth certificate.   When I applied to the bar I had to order a birth certificate, as all I had in my possession was a "notice of birth" from the hospital with "unnamed male Bell" listed on it.   Proof once again that all pregnancies are carefully planned!

And a funny thing, when I was born, my Mother decided that she should probably apply for Social Security numbers for all us kids, having waited nearly a decade, so she went off to the office in Rochester and as a result, we all have sequential social security numbers.   Kind of cool if I want to hack my brother's bank account, which I would do if there was anything in it.

Anyway, on the pre-application online you can register to vote with a click of a mouse.   It is that easy to do.  Even if you are using the paper form at the DDS building (which does sound like a dentist's office!) you just need to check the box with a pen.   It is that simple to register to vote in Georgia.

And this is part of the "motor voter" law that was enacted nationwide to encourage people to register to vote - a law that has largely worked, although not as Democrats thought it would.   More people are registered to vote, but few people actually vote, and lately, they aren't voting Democratic.   Voter suppression doesn't seem to be the issue - not resonating enough with voters to get them off their couches maybe is.

Anyway, it was a fast and efficient process, and we were there a total of 20 minutes (five minutes for our name to be called, 10 to get the paperwork, 5 to park the car).   Georgia government can be very efficient when it wants to be. 

It can also be creative as well.   When we registered our boat, we were given a piece of paper to fill out and mail in and were told to keep the stub as proof of registration.   A month or two later, our new registration arrives - good for ten years.   In the interim, we were told to keep the old boat registration numbers on the boat.   I think they realized that registering boats was a bit of a government boondoggle that did little to enhance security or safety, and it was a lot easier to take this laid-back approach than to say, use New York's approach which is to call you a criminal for even moving a car or boat that hasn't been sanctified by local government offices.  And boat registrations in New York were an annual affair.

When I first moved to the South, I was a bit alarmed by how casual they were about these things.   When you buy a car, they just put a piece of cardboard on the back with the name of the dealer, and then mail you the tags a couple of months later.  Not even a temp tag is issued, just a piece of cardboard with the dealer name and logo on it.   Others merely make handmade cardboard signs that say, "tag applied for" and tape those on the back.   They drive right by cops and are not hassled.   In New York State, if you didn't have a regulation license plate on the back of your car, you would be pulled over toute de suite.

We grew up with "big government" in New York, as exemplified by the enormous Governor Nelson A. Rockefeller Empire State Plaza government center in Albany - a monument to that former "liberal Republican" governor in an era when Republicans believed not in small government, but big and efficient government.   And in that era of the corporate man, IBM punch cards and whatnot, a lot of faith was placed in the corporate governance-type structure.   Efficient management was the solution to governance problems - armies of blue-suited technocrats would solve every problem with regulations and rules and government forms.  We were raised in a State with big government, big taxes and big laws and regulations.   Where I grew up, we were terrified of being pulled over for even a broken taillight or a missing license plate light.   The government was know-all and end-all and we lived in constant fear of it - to some extent.

Thus, it came as something of a surprise today that the United States Government is suing the State of New York for failing to comply with the motor-voter law.  Yup, you read that right - "cracker" States like Georgia have efficiently and easily complied with this law - with the click of a mouse - while liberal "blue-state" big government States like New York have not.

What's more, this trend is not unique.   If you look at the history of Motor Voter, you see that many "Blue States" such as California, New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, etc. are "low performing" in making motor voter work and getting people registered.   Yes, Alabama is up there too - but it technically isn't a State so much as it is a third-world country.  The middle- and high-performing States include a lot of places you'd think would be out to suppress the vote such as Texas and South Carolina.   It goes to show that stereotypes are never a good thing.

And maybe big, onerous, overpriced government isn't necessarily the most efficient, either.