Does this look like voter suppression?
Phil Keisling, a former Secretary of State for Oregon -- that means he ran the state's electoral apparatus -- thinks he has the answer to raising voter turnout. And he is certain he knows that what impedes voting:
While I don't doubt having the government send a ballot to registered voters increases turnout, especially among people who would probably vote anyway, I wish enthusiasts like Mr. Keisling would acknowledge the weakness implicit in this, called by some political scientists "convenience voting."
First off: note that important word registered. That's where the true voter suppression takes place: citizens are forced to jump through bureaucratic hoops (of smaller or lesser extent depending on the politics of their state and locality) just to get into the registered voting pool. If you are a citizen, you should be able to vote. Period. More on this topic here.
Also, universal vote-by-mail -- and universal vote-from-your-home-computer when it arrives as I am sure it will -- undermines the experience of collective civic participation that is central to democratic citizenship. If voting is something we do alone, whenever we get around to it, how much sense of solidarity do we feel with our community, with all that messy, sometimes fractious, group of folks who make up our democratic polity? Not much.
The era of highest turnout in U.S. history was the latter half of the 19th century when
There wasn't any convenience voting in those days: people had to be got to polls on Election Day. The day itself was a Big Disruptive Deal! Some jurisdictions closed the bars; others opened them early. Nobody thought citizenship, doing the voting thing, was a minor inconvenience in what was otherwise a normal work day.
If we were serious about democratic participation, Election Day would be a holiday. We would create civic festivals to celebrate our enthusiasm for our democratic exercise of the franchise. Want a parade? March around on Election Day. We would also implement universal, adult citizen voter registration. We might even imitate the Australians who fine (lightly) people who don't vote (though it is perfectly legal for individuals to secretly spoil their ballots if they don't like the choices.)
Voting shouldn't only be made easier -- it should be made more universal, more collective, more prominent in our lives. (That's not the same as saying we should be more afflicted by campaign ads. After a fairly low bar, those are about how much money campaigns can corral, not about democracy.) When a voting reform is suggested, let's stop looking at whether it can "increase turnout" and look, instead, at whether it aims toward increased civic participation. If it doesn't increase social solidarity -- the awareness we are all part of the same diverse country -- it is not about democratic reform. It is just tinkering at the edges.