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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Curbside Voter Registration

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Alan Durning thinks out loud about some practical ways voter registration might be made easier for green voters in his native Seattle.


DURNING: If this is a typical presidential election, more of us will recycle our trash than will cast a ballot. In states like Washington and Oregon, regular recyclers outnumber regular voters 2 to 1.

CURWOOD: Commentator Alan Durning is wishing he could do with his November ballot what he does with his trash.

DURNING: The familiar explanation for low voter turnout is that Americans are apathetic. But I don't think so. If we were apathetic, we wouldn't recycle the way that we do. I think we're just busy. So maybe we've got to do for voting what we've done for recycling.

(A truck motor, beeping, recyclables being spilled)

DURNING: Imagine this: curbside voting. You get your ballot in the mail, fill it out and drop it -- in the recycling bin.

(Recycling sounds continue)

DURNING: If voting were as easy as recycling, I think more of us would do it. And if more of us were to vote, mainstream citizens instead of political ideologues would decide elections.

(Recycling sounds continue)

DURNING: Remember the days when you had to go out of your way to recycle? Store up your pop bottles and deliver them to a Boy Scout troop on the second Saturday of the month? Only diehards recycled then. Now, thousands of cities have curbside recycling, and millions of regular folks have hopped on the bandwagon. The people who run our elections could learn a lesson from this. To vote, you still have to stand in line at a school gymnasium on the first Tuesday in November. Many Americans don't bother, including many card-carrying members of environmental organizations. In my state, Washington, fully half the people who write checks to environmental groups are mysteriously AWOL come election day.

That brings me to another suggestion: instant voter registration at places like this: the REI Sporting Goods Store in Seattle.

(Sounds of milling)

DURNING: This place was swamped during its recent grand opening. Imagine if every sales clerk were a deputized voter registrar. The people who renew driver's licenses can register us to vote. Why not the people who sell us hiking boots? Almost anything that boosts turnout would be good for the environment because overwhelming majorities of Americans are strongly pro-environment. But the anti-environment minority often does a better job of showing up at the polls.

(Mall sounds)

DURNING: Some day, voting and registration may become as simple as buying a lottery ticket at a local convenience store.

(Sound of ticket being dispensed)

DURNING: Far more Americans play the lottery than vote, which brings another idea to mind: get the lottery boards involved in elections. They'd know how to increase turnout. Imagine a ballot that's also a lottery ticket. The ads would be irresistible. "Remember to vote in Tuesday's Jackpot Election! You'll choose the next President, and you might win a million dollars!"

CURWOOD: Living on Earth commentator Alan Durning directs Northwest Environment Watch in Seattle. His commentary is adapted from his new book, This Place on Earth, published by Sasquatch Books.



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