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WHY AMERICANS DON'T VOTE by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward (Pantheon Books: $9.95)

April 09, 1989

Fifty-one percent of the eligible voters participated in the presidential election of 1988, the second-lowest voter turnout in the 20th Century. As Frances Fox Piven and Richard Cloward argue in this illuminating examination, the cause was not a lack of real issues but that campaign advertising men, whose strategies are directed toward "the limited universe of 'probable voters,' " ignored the existing "interests . . . of the non-voting half of the electorate": the undereducated and unemployed.

Furthermore, the political party machines "refuse to mobilize potential black or Hispanic voters for fear of fueling racial challenges."

Piven and Cloward advocate registration reform moving toward a system of comprehensive national registration along European lines. In 1982, the authors formed an organization (Human Service Employees' Registration and Voter Education Campaign, or Human SERVE) to enlist public and nonprofit groups to make registration forms universally available--at motor vehicle bureaus, day-care centers, senior citizen centers, unemployment and welfare offices.

These efforts reached fruition in the states of Texas, Ohio, New York, Montana, New Mexico and West Virginia at the respective governors' orders. But the most chilling response to the project was a harsh reprimand from the Reagan Administration. The director of the Office of Personnel Management, Donald Devine, claimed that this work represented a misuse of state personnel and questioned the effect of increased voter registration on the election of November, 1984. The authors write: "Devine was subsequently denied reconfirmation by the Senate."

An important and fascinating analysis.

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