A Perverse Incentive to Not Vote?

From a reader named Kyle Gregory:

I decided about a year ago that I am not going to vote and happened to find a neat little trick for those of us who take this stance.
I’m not sure about other states, but in Virginia, jury duty is determined by voter registration. I moved a couple of years ago, but never changed my voter registration since I didn’t plan on voting. I recently received notification of jury duty at my parents’ address where I am still registered to vote. The notification form has a section to fill out stating that you have not lived in that county in the past 6 months, which automatically disqualifies you from jury duty! So, as long as I do not want to vote, I am also exempt from having to do jury duty!

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  1. TC says:

    This is true in Ohio as well, but not every state works that way. New York, for instance, I am told uses drivers licensees. Regardless, I hope this “secret” doesn’t get out and cause states to change the law because I enjoy taking advantage of this as well.

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    • Mons says:

      In Ohio it depends on the local jurisdiction. Some counties and cities use the driver license.

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      • Vince says:

        Evading two civic duties with one stone. Free riders like you are a parasite on our democratic and legal systems.

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      • Steve O says:

        Exactly how is not voting “free riding”? If you really wanted to do your civic duty and not simply judge others, you’d do something other than voting with your time.

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      • Vince says:

        Quite simply, our political system is dependent upon the citizenry exercising its right to vote. You’re relying on the votes of other people for our political system to function. You’re also relying on the participation of others for our legal system to function. If everybody treated voting and jury duty as you did, our political system would lack any semblance of democratic accountability and your fellow citizens would be deprived of their constitutional right to a jury of their peers.

        If you are not participating in order as a form of political protest, that is another matter. If you’re not participating because you’d rather not bother, than you are free riding on the participation of your fellow citizens.

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      • Matt says:

        Not voting is not “free-riding”. In fact, if he doesn’t vote, it makes your own vote actually count for more.
        As long as he pays taxes and respects the laws of the government he chose not to participate in, he can do as he likes.
        As for jury duty, ask yourself who you would rather decide your fate in a court: someone who wants to participate in the country’s decisions or someone who is apathetic toward the choice of governmental reprsentatives?

        There is no harm done to anyone by Kyle not voting, and in fact the system may actually be improved if people who don’t really care don’t really vote.

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    • Mothers I’d like to judge my case says:

      Ask yourself, “Who do I want deciding my case?”

      Ideally, you want experienced, intelligent fellow citizens (perhaps “peers”), who will be understanding and not prejudiced (pre-judging).

      The jury is composed of and reflects a balance of two objectives:

      1st) People who can see and sympathize with you, not just as a citizen, but as a person with a specific predicament. Someone who can sit with an open mind and even if they don’t know you intimately—your life, struggles, work, family, etc—can identify with you to some extent and give you any benefits of doubt.

      2nd) People who represent “society” i.e. the citizenry at large, and uphold the intent of the law by as objectively as possible when applying the law to the facts.

      The next question is “How do you get such people?”

      Most courts allow some form of voir dire from each side to sift through a “representative sample” from the community and cull out the most unfavorable jurors as perceived by each side.

      Still, the old joke is “would you really want to be judged by someone who was too dumb to get out of jury duty?”

      To the extent that there is any truth in this joke, it is saying that you would want intelligent people to be on your jury (or any and all juries.) The problem is that judges and prosecuting attorneys don’t always want a jury that can think on its own. And they don’t want people smart enough to understand jury nullification—whereas, the defending attorney will usually want these people.

      That’s why the defense often chooses the older women and mothers to remain on the jury, because prim and proper as they might present themselves to the outside world, they’ve seen it all and aren’t as phased by the excesses to which men go and the idiotic things they do. (The prosecuting side, by contrast, would prefer the idealistic young, naive and easily shocked younger ladies.)

      But that is just at the emotive, sympathetic level. How many juries are intelligent enough to understand Kahneman and Tversky’s base rate green and blue taxi cases? Very few, indeed.

      The key phrase used above is “representative sample” of the community. Why does Virginia pick jurors from a list of voters and not from a list of drivers? Because voters as a class represent civic minded individuals. In some ways that is a broader conception of one’s role in society than that of being a driver. Drivers relate to others on the road, period. Voters relate to others along bigger ideas such as what kind of society do we want to live in. It also implies a certain maturity, sense of social responsibility, and a willingness to participate, of which merely being a driver is a much narrower, paler version.

      If someone chooses not to vote, while it may not indicate that they have no view about society, it does indicate a rejection of a form of civic participation. Do you want juries to contain such people? Sure, why not? They represent some fraction of the populace, and should be allowed to participate in legal decisions. They may [rationally, as some economists have noted] not want to vote, but they may want to see that justice is carried out in the courts.

      But that is just asking if they should be “allowed” to participate. The harder question is should they be “compelled” to participate? What kind of perverse incentives does compelling people to undertake jury duty already introduce into the search for justice?

      From my subjective experience, I have rarely, though once in a while, heard people (mostly older males) speak up and say they are proud to pay taxes usually because they believe in this country and the ideals it stands for and the good that it does in the world. I have less often heard people (mostly young males) talk positively about being chosen for jury duty. When I do I get the feeling that they took a perverse enjoyment out of being able to convict bad people. Though I find both types perhaps naive (dare I say simple-minded) in their outlooks, I understand the former and respect their patriotism. I find myself, however, a little more fearful of the latter and the apparent excitement, almost glee, they take in having a chance to bring the law down on someone else.

      Who do I want deciding my case? That’s easy—older economist mothers with varied experience.

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      • brian warden says:

        As long as one is paying taxes, there is no free loading going on at all.

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      • Mark says:

        To Brian, paying taxes does not “pay” the true cost of citizenship. The service component is what makes it work, not the money. Sure, the money is needed, but it is the service to our form of government that ensures that money goes for what is best. The attitude of “I’ll just pay and that’s all I have to do” gets us to a place where money is thrown at every problem. If you look at how much has been thrown at education in this country and the ever decreasing results, it’s easy to see that money is not the answer. Not being involved is riding the backs of everyone who still understands that involvement is what makes everything work. I’ll take an active, involved, and understanding populace that would pay no taxes, to one that pays taxes and then turns around in apathy and walks away.

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  2. Sully says:

    Hidden due to low comment rating. Click here to see.

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  3. Luke says:

    In some states registering to vote also registers you with the Selective Service for military drafts

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    • Ken says:

      Select Service is required by law for males 18-25. You need to be registered with the SSS anyhow, so that should not impact a decision to register to vote.

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  4. David says:

    Around here (Alameda County in California), voter reg is one source of jurors, as is possession of drivers license or DMV-issued ID. So don’t register to vote and use only your passport for ID and you’re off the hook.

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  5. Mike B says:

    The ability to be a more extreme civil leech should not been seen as an ADVANTAGE to not voting. The only way our government functions properly is if citizens participate in it.

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    • Keith says:

      Well stated. This is only an incentive for nincompoops who would eventually find other ways to avoid jury duty… Or are just looking for justification for their decision to let other voters decide our fate.

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      • Enter your name... says:

        And, of course, who believe that they and their loved ones will never have a need for twelve honest people to evaluate the government’s allegation that they’ve committed crimes. I suspect that the interest in doing jury duty rises among people falsely accused of crimes or overcharged for minor offenses.

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      • Butch says:

        Hate to tell you this, Keith, but whether you vote or not, you are letting other voters decide your fate, since no major election will ever be decided by your vote

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    • Daniel says:

      You can say that it shouldn’t be seen as such, but popular sentiment would clearly list jury duty as a ‘bad’, not a ‘good’. I’m waiting for when you can pay a fee to get out of jury duty as a revenue source for local government.

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    • James says:

      Maybe I’m the exception, but I would welcome a chance at jury duty, just for the chance of reducing injustice by some small amount. Unfortunately, the only time I was called (for a major drug trial) the prosecution took one look at my Libertarian party registration and kicked me out of the pool.

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      • Molly says:

        I’ve been selected twice over the last 20 years. In a word: fascinating. I’m a teacher, so I have to prepare lesson plans for every day that I’m out. I lose continuity with the students, and they don’t benefit from my expertise while I’m absent. However, kids are resilient. Depending on their age, they are eager to hear about the process of a jury trial. This is an important civic duty. It’s disheartening to hear that people would give up these rights.

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  6. paul says:

    The state of Illinois — or at least Cook County — dealt with this issue a while ago. They use all sorts of public records, not just voter registration rolls, to construct their jury duty lists.

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    • Mark says:

      In addition, Cook County has the “one day or one trial” rule for potential jurors. A notice comes in the mail. One can defer once for a different date. Or one is selected as a backup and only has to call in in the morning to find out if they need people from the backup list (its an automated message). If notified on the primary list you go to the courthouse for one day. If your number isn’t called you go home.
      I lived in Cook County for 16 years and was always a registered voter. The one and only time I got a notification was when I had voted in the primary. So they may be using all of the records but some records may be weighted to get people who are really into the process.

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  7. Noah Stevens says:

    I’ve done the same thing and that strategy also works in Washington state.

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  8. Robin says:

    Isn’t it like this everywhere? (Registering to vote is what signs you up for Jury Duty?)

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