- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 4, 2006

Rejoice, and hold that voter registration card high. We have just 48 hours until the caterwaul of campaigning stops and the real business of democracy begins. That’s right. The political ads. They’re going to cease at last.

Yes, cease, as in sh-h-h, hush, enough already.

Just imagine: Republicans and Democrats will no longer accuse one another of being pigs, weasels, hyenas, buzzards, earthworms, paramecium or woolly mastodons, at least not on camera, anyway. The parties won’t spread any more rumors about political rivals, claiming they are guilty of eating the last doughnut or going down to the drugstore with curlers in their hair.

And though this is the most expensive, most mean-spirited midterm election on record, some analysts have made the case for a return to good manners and civility: “Voters reward campaign practice perceived as fair, and punish candidates for engaging in unfair attacks,” notes the University of Virginia’s Project on Campaign Conduct.

But we still have another two days of it, so batten down the hatches. Any second now, the campaign advisers on both sides of the aisle will start playing hardball and go after the pet vote, knowing full well that all their constituents pay far more attention to their animals than they do to their politicians.

“Vote Democratic. Remember Buddy and Socks.”

“Vote Republican. No new taxes; complimentary kibble and cat toys available at all polls.”

Why, it’s a wonder neither party has honed in on the pet vote, trotting its candidates around the block with a nice Labrador or perhaps popping open a can of salmon in some district with a lot of swing voters and a whole bunch of cats.

Granted, both the Republicans and the Dems have micro-targeted every other demographic on the planet — bossy mothers, men age 18 to 49 who wear ties, knitters, spelunkers, people who feed squirrels, grill chefs. It’s odd that political strategists haven’t tried to woo aggressive drivers, coffee drinkers, women with too many shoes and dieters.

“Vote Democratic. Go ahead. Have a cookie.”

“Vote Republican. Slim chance for fat government.”

Of course, a huge contingent of experts and academics are out there trying to unravel something called “voter behavior” — all the weird stuff people do until that magic moment when they pull the polling lever and emerge triumphant, to be rewarded with a little sticky badge that says “I voted.”

Understanding voter behavior, the strategists reason, may lead to possible voter engagement, followed by voter motivation and possible voter turnout and ultimately, voter voting. It is science, art, divination. What gets those voters down to the church recreation room to stand behind a little curtain with only their shoes shamelessly showing, facing a list of candidates both major and minor?

What? What? The fate of the entire election rests upon such mysteries.

Are the voters having a bad hair day? Did they have insomnia, dyspepsia or a problem matching socks that morning? Well, did they? The strategists huddle together, crunching numbers and running computer models, hoping to figure out how to get Mr. and Mrs. Voter — and all the little Voters — from breakfast table to polling place in one piece.

They could always invite the voter to bring their pets to the polling place, which certainly would work for the Labrador vote. They could offer everybody a Whitman’s Sampler, or cocktails, if it’s late in the day. Maybe the polls should be situated at gas stations, dry cleaners or pharmacies so all the voters can exercise their rights and do their errands at the same time.

And there’s no reason why the voting booth itself shouldn’t contain a compact refrigerator, a hot plate and a microwave, just in case the voter is cooking dinner for the family that night.

Both political parties get pretty angst-ridden about the whole thing, pondering why just over half of America’s 205 million eligible voters, give or take a couple of million, normally make it to the polls. It is not rocket science. According to the Federal Election Commission and other researchers, voters get apathetic for fairly pedestrian reasons. Nothing fancy.

Among the most common complaints: They’re too busy; they don’t want to wait in line; the weather is lousy; they’re afraid of being called for jury duty; they don’t come from a “voting family”; they think their vote doesn’t count and that politicians “don’t care for me personally.”

Aw. Now think about that, all you donkeys and elephants. You’ve got two days to come up with some make-nice strategies that will have the voters — not to mention their pets — lining up at the polling places with good cheer and high expectations. So behave. Think lofty thoughts.

And voters? Get down to the polls. Maybe there will be cake. Maybe somebody will volunteer to go down and get your dry cleaning while you’re behind the little curtain. And when you’re done, wear your sticky “I voted” badge like a big medal. You earned it.

Jennifer Harper covers media, politics and woolly mastodons for The Washington Times’ national desk. Reach her at [email protected] times.com or 202/636-3085.

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