If you're a Republican, you probably don't like it when people say nasty things about your candidate. If you're a Democrat, you get steamed when the other side insults your president or your party.
By now, many Americans have already figured out that there are problems with the way they vote. Start with the fact that some people's votes count more than others. The presidential vote on November 6 is shaping up to be a pretty tight contest, so it's entirely possible that the final tally will be close. But, as anyone who's heard of the electoral college already knows, U.S. presidents aren't elected on the basis of the popular vote. (Remember Florida in 2000?) So there's already plenty of editorial anguish over the inherent unfairness of this arrangement.
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And then there's the controversy over registration. Republicans, warning against vote fraud, have introduced laws across the country that raise the bar for voter registration. Critics of these efforts point out that these laws address a kind of fraud that is unlikely to occur, and gloss over the type that is much more threatening (namely, the wholesale manipulation of electronic voting machines). Such critics accuse the Republicans of actually trying to suppress the turnout of groups -- minorities, the underprivileged, the elderly -- who are more likely to vote for Democrats.
These are all legitimate problems. But what I don't understand is why no one is addressing the elephant in the room: the fact that some 40 percent of Americans of voting age don't see any reason to cast their votes on election day at all.
In national election after national election, eligible voters who choose to refrain from voting make up what some political scientists have called a "silent plurality." There have been moments when that plurality was pretty close to becoming a majority. In 1996, 49.1 percent of the voting age population declined to go to the polls. In 2008, turnout of eligible voters went all the way up to 61.7 percent -- the highest since 1968, mind you. But the number of those who refused to vote -- or just didn't care -- was still significantly larger than those who voted for Barack Obama, the winning candidate. Non-voters, in short, make up the biggest electoral bloc in the nation.