First, offer two ballots, a long one and a short one. Let's call the short one Fast Ballot. President. Congress. Governor if there's a race on. That's all. You're done. Someone else will vote the long ballot.
Second, let's make the election fun. Here are a few ideas:
One free drink.Let's take the 10 biggest population centers. In each one, set up a business-type council, full of media types and celebrities, to push voting. In September and October, have them sign up bars and restaurants to put up a red-white-and-blue logo on Election Night. What does the logo mean? With your ballot stub, first drink is on the house. Soon everybody will want to have a logo, the way in the New Deal, businesses showcased the Blue Eagle. Put the word out on college campuses. Get them to compete to throw the biggest party. Pump it up, the way we've done with Halloween.
Registration lotto. Each state has a special drawing. Anyone who registers to vote is automatically entered. (The number that's drawn will be a voter-ID number.) Set the pot at 10 percent of all the dough Bush raises in your state. Ads can remind people, "But to play, you gotta vote!" This can also make people aware of the last day to register to vote, which is usually 30 days before Election Day. As the deadline nears, the ads can say, "Last chance to play Registration Lotto!"
Ten concerts, 10 cities. Free rock concerts for people who register for the first time. Aren't the rockers on our side? Let's have 10 concerts in 10 cities on one night—again, 30 days before the election.
So what about the Cotton Mather model? Here's the idea: Command people to vote. Straight, simple moral obligation. The French philosopher Henri Bergson wrote of the morality that says, "You have to, because you have to." No more of the nice election lady saying, "Oh, thank you for voting!" Here are a few ideas:
Use the public schools. In October, in every public school, call the kids into assembly. Bring in the PTA. Bring in speakers. Tell the kids: "You have to vote. It's what America is about." Set the kids up with voting-related projects for the next month, and write letters to parents urging them to take the kids with them to the polls. Why should schools do this? If the right people get into office, it will help the schools much more than passing any levy. And "because they have to."
Use the pulpits.Or at least the parish councils. Let's take just Hispanic voters. There must be thousands of Catholic churches with Spanish masses. At least one Democratic precinct captain should be on every parish council and arrange for it to register people in the parish. Most of the priests will go along because they're usually Democrats. They tend to say very little about politics, but the one thing they can say is that people in the parish ought to vote. Why? To help the parish. Why else? "Because they have to."
Try the colleges.Ask college presidents to send a letter to every student telling them to register. Why? "Student funding. Financial aid." They'll get the message. And because they have to.
If the Democrats want to win, we have to start doing these things. Because we have to.