Because the likelihood of any individual’s vote mattering is infinitesimal and because the effort required to be an informed voter can be substantial, ignorance and abstention are rational, unless voting is cathartic or otherwise satisfying. A small voting requirement such as registration, which calls for the individual voter’s initiative, acts to filter potential voters with the weakest motivations. They are apt to invest minimal effort in civic competence. As indifferent or reluctant voters are nagged to the polls — or someday prodded there by a monetary penalty for nonvoting — the caliber of the electorate must decline.

It has been said that for every complex problem there is a solution that is clear, simple and wrong. Washington soon may seek a complex “solution” — preemption of states’ responsibilities; federal micromanagement of elections; eventual coercion of lackadaisical citizens — to the non-problem of people choosing not to vote.