George Will argues in his Washington Post column today that what he terms the Justice Department's “drive to federalize voter registration” is an unnecessarily complex answer to “the non-problem of people choosing not to vote,” and that high voter turnout isn't all it's cracked up to be, citing the German elections of the early 1930s that resulted in Nazi dictatorship.
Describing “obvious reasons for non-voting,” he writes:
[T]he stakes of politics are agreeably low because constitutional rights and other essential elements of happiness are not menaced by elections. Those who think high voter turnout indicates civic health should note that in three German elections, 1932-33, turnout averaged more than 86 percent, reflecting the terrible stakes: The elections decided which mobs would rule the streets and who would inhabit concentration camps.
There's a lot to unpack here, but I'll try to keep it brief. Germany in the early 1930s was reeling from the global depression, increasingly bitter over the outcome of World War I and the punitive terms of the Treaty of Versailles, and overrun by extremist parties with their own paramilitary wings brawling in the streets and shooting at each other outside political rallies. Anti-Semitism was widespread, everyone hated the Weimar government, and nostalgia for the heady days of the Kaiser led most people to actually yearn for a dictatorship of some form. And in this toxic political environment, the Nazis managed to prevail over the other extremist groups -- largely due to popular support, but also through conspiracy and outright intimidation.
None of that, however, is an argument against the high voter turnout as a sign of “civic health.” It's an argument against war, depression, anti-Semitism, Nazis, Communists, and political violence. Will could just as easily have argued that representative government, or elections themselves, aren't a sign of “civic health,” given how they were misused and perverted by Hitler and his associates.
But that's not the only bit of illogic Will brings to bear. Federalized voter registration, Will argues, is “a step toward making voting mandatory.” Here's his vision for how that comes to pass:
Notice the perverse dialectic by which Washington aggrandizes its power: It promises to ameliorate problems exacerbated by its supposedly ameliorative policies. Notice, too, the logic of [Assistant Attorney General Thomas] Perez's thesis that “our democracy is stronger when more people have a say in electing their leaders.” Therefore the public good would be served by penalizing nonvoting, as Australia, Belgium and at least 10 other countries do. Liberals love mandates (e.g., health insurance). Why not mandatory voting?
Keep in mind that the only argument the Justice Department has made is that it should be easier for people who want to vote to cast their ballot. From this, Will has divined an intention on the part of the government to impel people to vote, based on the obvious truth that “liberals love mandates,” as demonstrated by the health care law that, notably, has precisely nothing to do with elections, voting, or anything remotely related to the topic at hand.
Also: it happened in Belgium, so why not here? You know what else happened in Belgium?