There is something cathartic about voting- walking into the booth, choosing the best candidate, and, of course, pinning yourself with the red, white, and blue badge of honor that proudly says, “I Voted.” And for that one day you can hold your head high at the water cooler next to the bigwig foreign investor who swung into town, and in one week got a date with the girl from accounts receivable that you’ve had the hots for. He’s so worldly isn’t he, but what does he know about civic pride? What does he know about the world’s greatest democratic pastime? Nothing.
New election laws in Indiana may take the spark at the water cooler out of some voters this November. The new law in the Hoosier State, which has the 48th lowest voter turnout, will take unopposed candidates off the ballot. The rationale for the change is that it saves paper, but, while Indiana trees rejoice, the new law leaves little reason for many voters to show up to the ballot box. A skeptic may say that in the case of unopposed candidates there was never a choice in the first place, but the effects of the law have less to do with the outcome of elections, and more to do with the fragile psyche of voters and their perceived notion of choice.
A study published in 2006 in the Journal of Applied Social Psychology found that women who thought they had a say in their exercise routine were more likely to show up to classes then those who had no choice. What exactly do women’s exercise regimens have to do with the good people of Indiana? More than one may think. Before the enactment of the blank ballot law a voter would still have a choice, albeit insubstantial, of whether or not to vote for an unopposed candidate. Now when voters look down at their ballot they’ll see, well, nothing in many cases. The lack of choice that kept women away from the gym may cause many voters to spend their time elsewhere on Election Day.
But still, I can hear you all crying in unison, what does it matter anyway if the candidates are running unopposed? First off, I’m pretty sure that if enough Indianans write in “Rowdy” Roddy Piper for Boone County Town-Clerk Treasurer he will be obligated to take the job. Secondly, the time honored tradition of casting a vote for or against a candidate is part of the American process and the American dream. Representative Long of Indiana said it best “The intention (to save money) was good, but voting is a fundamental responsibility. It goes to the heart of our republic.” Lastly, and maybe most importantly, voting is good for our health. Studies have shown that the act of voting itself, regardless of the winner, is good for mental health. If an apple a day can keep the doctor away, then voting just might keep the shrinks at bay, which for Indiana, ranking number two on the list of states with the highest depression rates, can only be a good thing.
Luckily for Indianans, it doesn’t seem like the law will be sticking around too long. Many county election boards have already voted against implementing the new law, and several Indiana legislatures have spoken out against it. Attorney General Greg Zoeller has also stated that he will not challenge counties who decide to put unopposed candidates on ballots. It seems that for now most Indianans will be able to go about their happy voting practices, and get all the psychological esteem boosting benefits that come along with it.
Patrick Genova is a first-year law student at William and Mary Law.