Against ‘Hi, Are You Registered to Vote?’

This time of year, few University of Michigan students or Ann Arbor residents will be able to walk around campus without being asked, “Hi, are you registered to vote?” by people wearing bright yellow-green vests and holding clipboards.

Given their question, their purpose is pretty easy to deduce. They are trying to ensure that as many people are registered to vote as possible for the upcoming midterm elections. Anyone who is not registered can enter his information on the forms the volunteers provide, after which the completed forms are taken to the clerk’s office to be officially cataloged.

It is impossible to find personal fault in the people taking this effort. Voting is an essential part of the American Republic, and it is an admirable thing to work overtime to ensure that more people can partake in it.

However, it is possible that their well-intentioned efforts could have some unintended negative consequences. The only thing better than voting is informed voting, and it is hard to see how the people being registered to vote in such a manner are well-informed.

If someone would not have registered to vote were he not stopped on the street and told to by a complete stranger, it is unlikely that he has taken the time to research the issues and candidates on the ballot in Michigan come November.

Further, what excuse would a person have not to have already registered by other means?

Could it be a lack of knowledge about registering? It is pretty easy to find out how. Simply Google something like “how to register to vote Ann Arbor,” and you will find the City of Ann Arbor’s webpage with all that information. If a person is not capable of taking that simple initiative, the likelihood of him taking the further initiative of doing research is quite low.

What about a lack of convenience to register? Those with a Michigan driver’s license can register online at any time, so the majority of campus and almost the entirety of the surrounding city are covered.

Still, many students – and, perhaps, some Ann Arbor residents – are not from Michigan, so they must register in person. The clerk’s office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday. I would pity the student who is in class for the better part of nine hours per day, and these Wolverines are likely few and far between. Even so, they probably still exist, and there are probably students and others who work during the time the office is open. For that reason, the aforementioned webpage lists a number of weekdays when the office is open late and a couple of weekends when it is open all day.

But let’s say that none of these accommodations work for some small number of people. What then? Wouldn’t that be a reason for these volunteers’ efforts? Certainly, just not in the way that they are doing it. Instead of confronting people and reminding them to register, it would be better to set up pop-up stands with signs that say something to the effect of “Register to Vote Here!” They can also make their locations public and wait for people to come up to them. This puts the onus on the person who needs to register, allowing him to take the initiative without making the process too complicated.

No one will doubt that voting is a fundamental right for all Americans. But all of our rights come with duties. If we own guns we have a responsibility to store and use them safely; if we make public comments about politics, we have a responsibility to do so intelligently. In the case of guns, people are criminally liable for neglecting that duty, but there is no law (outside of those against defamation and incitement) that prohibits a person from saying something stupid. Here is a case where we have a personal duty, one not enforced by the government, to use our rights in the proper way.

So too is the case with voting. Casting a ballot influences the direction of our city and country, and it is good for people to demonstrate their commitment to making the right decision. Challenging people to register takes away that opportunity.

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About Charles Hilu

Charles Hilu was editor in chief of the Michigan Review. He is currently the Intercollegiate Studies Institute fellow at the Washington Free Beacon.