Monday, March 19, 2012

Universal Voter Registration: Increase Participation, Decrease Gridlock?
Last week, thousands of participants marched from Selma to Montgomery Alabama to protest the wave of voter-id laws sweeping the country. Generally, conservatives argue that these laws protect the integrity of the ballot, while liberals argue that these requirements disenfranchise voters (although liberals seem ok with supporting these laws in RI and KS, where it is politically advantageous). Our focus however, should be broader. Voter ID laws are just one facet of a larger ballot access problem in America.   

This problem begins with voter registration laws, our country’s greatest source of disenfranchisement. A 2001 task force chaired by Jimmy Carter and Gerald Ford determined that our registration laws are some of the world’s most demanding and lead to low voter turnout. The United States is one of the few industrialized democratic nations where the entire onus of voter registration falls on the individual.

Arguments that these laws “protect the integrity of the ballot” are usually made by those ignorant to the racist, xenophobic, sexist, and classist history of voter registration in the United States.

We have made progress in the fight for universal ballot access with the Voter Rights Act of 1965, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, and the Help America Vote Act, but our system is still rife with barriers for citizens. Registration can be difficult for a number of reasons: forms can be rejected without notice on a technicality, voters may not restart the registration process upon moving, or voters may live in one of the 41 states without same-day registration.

Although decreasing barriers does not guarantee increased turnout, implementing some type of voter roll system would substantially increase the number of potential voters.  If our politicians were forced to work under the assumption that everyone in their district, not just the extremes, was a potential voter, it could open the door to more highly contested campaigns and incentive politicians to adopt more centrist platforms.

We often cite redistricting practices and voter ID laws as some of the barriers to fair elections and the drivers of the current gridlock in our system. Because voter registration is such an ingrained process in our society, it is often overlooked when debating solutions to gridlock. Given the rise of independent voters , opening the voter flood gates to all citizens could have a significant effect on our elections and is worthy of a debate.  


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  2. I agree with the author that expanding the number of voters, or at the very least, potential voters might have a positive impact on the rhetoric and positions of many candidates. Particularly in the primary elections, the most passionate AKA extreme voters tend to dominate the conversation because they are mostly likely to actually vote. I'm thinking of the dedicated voter trekking to a wintry Iowa caucus. If the number of voters increased, I believe the impact of the most passionate would be diluted.

  3. "Arguments that these laws “protect the integrity of the ballot” are usually made by those ignorant to the racist, xenophobic, sexist, and classist history of voter registration in the United States."

    Just because historically voting laws have been used as a tool to keep out minority groups does not mean that is the goal now or that the laws today act similarly. I don't think we should discount the arguments made in favor of voting registration rules (that may prevent fraud, etc.) because other rules (much stricter ones...) have been used poorly in the past.

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  5. If the origin of a law, opinion, or accepted argument is found to be false, flawed, or unreliable, it should follow that the law, opinion, or accepted argument itself is at the very least unreliable. The foundation of our voter registration system was discriminatory and created to ensure that only white-male landowners were eligible to vote. Subsequent laws passed were written in a way that ensured a certain subset of citizens were unable to vote. Today it is widely believed that the reasoning behind many of these laws were highly prejudicial.

    Because of the nature of the origin of these laws, new arguments had to be created to justify their existence (i.e. tradition, voter fraud, integrity of the ballot, etc). Tradition is one of the reasons people claim we should continue our current registration and voting practices. However, the only reason we vote on a Tuesday is because we used to be an agrarian society. The second Tuesday in November was the largest market day and therefore the day most certain to have the largest voter turnout. That argument is no longer valid and now works to severely limit the number of people in this country who can vote in a general election. Yet we continue this undemocratic practice because we are blinded by tradition.

    The fact of the matter is, voter fraud, in terms of the deliberate misrepresentation of one's vote, is a statistically insignificant occurrence. This has been proven time, and time, again. Today, voter fraud is much more likely to be a product of machine tampering or harassment, or libel, none of which are remotely addressed by voter ID, and voter registration laws.

    We are disenfranchising our citizens, we are silencing their voice, and we are perpetuating a flawed and prejudicial system. Almost every other industrialized democratic country has figured this out. It seems that it’s about time we do so also.

    Voter ID Opinions and Papers that Prove Statistical Insignificance:

  6. "If the origin of a law, opinion, or accepted argument is found to be false, flawed, or unreliable, it should follow that the law, opinion, or accepted argument itself is at the very least unreliable."

    I have to respectfully disagreement with this statement. At least if "origin" means how it originated (and not, say, its rational foundation or grounding). The way its phrased now though looks like a genetic fallacy--i.e. the proposition that the origin of an argument has any bearing on its truth or falsity. Here's an example from Wikipedia: "You're not going to wear a wedding ring, are you? Don't you know that the wedding ring originally symbolized ankle chains worn by women to prevent them from running away from their husbands? I would not have thought you would be a party to such a sexist practice." It's very similar to the argument that Daniel is criticizing about restrictive voter registration laws. Now, I happen to agree with you that there are not many good reasons to have them in place now--i think the fraud argument is completely outweighed by the legitimate disenfranchisement of legitimate voters--but that doesn't mean they are "unreliable" because they originated from a discriminatory purpose. Other than that, I completely agree with you that current arguments don't support the system we have in place and should not continue without good justification.

  7. To say that something is "unreliable" is not the same as implying that it is "false." The genetic fallacy does not pertain to whether or not we are justified in our beliefs, only to whether or not our beliefs are true based on their origin. I was alluding to (or at least trying to allude to) our justifications for voter registration. However, that definitely wasn't clear in my post.

  8. How do we evaluate laws like early voting. As our speaker noted last week - these laws are what makes North Carolina competitive for Obama - without them, he would have lost in 2008. So it is natural for Republicans to oppose them, no? Are any measures that increase the franchise good laws? Why not let people vote for two months prior to the election? We would surely get higher participation? How about putting polling stations in supermarkets -- it could be called the Shop N' Vote law or how about Gas N' Vote. The NRA might like us to put polling stations in gun shops. At some point is it a valid purpose to make sure that a voter is truly committed to the voting process - perhaps by getting a photo ID ahead of time, or is willing to go vote on Election Day, or is willing to get to the polling place? Or do we believe that ANYTHING that will increase voter participation is a good thing.