Monday, June 08, 2015

Let's end voter registration drives ...

The other day, Hillary Clinton came out for universal, automatic voter registration at age 18. That woman will likely do a lot of things I hate, but if she keeps pounding on this drum, she'll do us all a service.

Registration has got to go. There is no reason for this outmoded hurdle, except to make it harder for some eligible people to vote. None.

Oregon is showing the way. The state has recently implemented a New Motor Voter Act:

The new law eliminates the need to fill out the voter registration card. Instead, the information you provided to DMV will be forwarded to state elections officials. They will notify you by mail that you have established your eligibility to vote and you don’t need to do anything if you want to be registered. The postal notification will allow you, the new voter, to affiliate with a party or choose not to become a registered voter, aka "opt out."

Sure, people need to take some responsibility to keep their records up to date, but the post office and the DMV should capture most such moves. (Amazon, Google and your internet provider also probably know too ...) Once you are in the system, you are in the system. As I always say on this topic: the NSA knows where you are. If we can't thwart the spooks (and we probably can't), why shouldn't we use that government knowledge to ensure everyone has the chance to vote?

Commentary on Clinton's speech has raised up some hard facts. Jamelle Bouie spelled out the racial implications of restrictions Republicans have passed wherever they could recently.

... tellingly, the prevalence of those laws has a lot to do with the demographics of the state. “Of the 11 states with the highest African American turnout in 2008, 7 have new restrictions,” notes the Brennan Center for Justice. “Of the 12 states with the largest Hispanic population growth between 2000 and 2010, 9 passed laws making it harder to vote.”

Law school professor (and former Obama administration official) Cass Sunstein makes points so obvious it is easy to miss them:

Free speech and freedom of religion are every American's right; no paperwork is required to get them. To be protected against unreasonable searches and seizures or to enjoy a right to a jury trial, there is no need to register with the authorities. The right to vote should be treated the same way.

... many millions of Americans are being automatically enrolled by their employers in retirement and health insurance plans -- and, as a result, participation rates have risen dramatically. ...

... Automatic voter registration appears to be working well enough in Argentina, Australia, Austria, Chile, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland, and there’s no reason to think that it cannot succeed here.

Political scientist Jonathan Bernstein emphasizes that, if we want to increase voter participation -- and we should if we believe in equality and democracy -- doing away with the registration obstacle is likely to be the most effective improvement we can make. Apparently researchers are now doubting the claims for "convenience voting" -- vote by mail, unlimited absentee voting, early voting etc. The people attracted by these tweaks to the system are mostly just changing when they cast their ballots, not whether they bother.

However the same research shows that automatic, universal registration does add present non-voters to the mix. Our current system works to limit who votes on a class basis. Bernstein explains in his slightly convoluted way:

Even if it’s not much of a barrier, those who are deterred are almost certainly the same people who lose out in a system that cannot (and in my view should not) help but reward those with more resources.

It is within our technological and political capacity to do better.


Brandon said...

I'm against mandatory voting, however. There are barriers to voting but if both parties have lousy candidates (e.g., Jeb vs. Hillary) why should people be forced to vote for one or the other?

Would automatic voter registration mean people would also be called up for jury duty?

janinsanfran said...

The automatic, universal plans like Oregon's allow people to opt out of being registered.

As for juries -- around here, a driver's license can get you jury service; they use the DMV rolls. Jurors are hard to come by. The jury call summons explains that the only sure way out of it is if you are not a citizen, here on some kind of visa.

Brandon said...

I've been registered since age eighteen. I filled out a form that came in the phone book, mailed it in, and have voted in every election since. Jury summonses come my way occasionally, but I wouldn't opt out of registration because of that.

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