By SKIP MENDLER
Congratulations, America! We’ve made it through yet another election season. I hope that everyone found something in the recent results to be happy about, whether locally or nationally. I myself found some reasons for guarded optimism about 2020 and the years beyond… but there are also reasons to fear that the voting process itself will come under renewed attacks in the year ahead. We must double down on efforts to safeguard and expand access to the polls for all citizens.
Voting is at the very heart of our putative democracy. As Thomas Jefferson stated in the Declaration of Independence, “the consent of the governed” is the source of the “just power” of government—and if its voting process is sullied, no government can claim legitimacy.
Elections, properly held, can also provide important information for politicians and civic leaders of all parties to help them understand what their constituents want—if they are willing to listen, of course.
Given all this, it’s bizarre that some folks are still engaged in voter suppression. (See www.bit.ly/TRRvotersupression for examples.) So how do we make sure that our elections are giving us accurate and meaningful results, drawn from as large a cross-section of the electorate as possible?
Some steps are fairly simple. For example, some people have proposed making Election Day a federal holiday, with workers being given the day off. (Some suggest sacrificing the Columbus Day holiday in return.) The idea is that more citizens would then be able to vote, and participation would increase. I’m not so sure about that—I suspect that many people would make a long weekend out of it and still not vote. Instead, I’d propose requiring companies to give workers a half-day off with pay, only if they give proof of having voted.
Increased access to mail-in and early voting has been very successful in raising participation in many areas. “Motor Voter” laws have made it easier for voters to register. Many local organizations run voter-registration drives. Individuals can even go to their local county bureau of elections, get a handful of voter-registration forms and keep some on hand to give to friends.
I support the notion that voters should show identification, but I oppose measures that would require such IDs to be limited to such things as driver’s licenses that are not available to everyone. Such measures are clearly discriminatory. Voter IDs should be free, secure and generated as a result of the voter-registration process. (See www.bit.ly/TRRvoterid for a state-by-state list of voter-ID requirements. See www.bit.ly/acluvoterid for the ACLU’s objections to existing regulations.)
Of course, the best thing that our parties could do to encourage greater voter participation is offer candidates who excite and inspire citizens, who offer new ideas and positive visions of the future and who base their platforms on something other than fear and outrage. Is that too much to ask?
P.S. Tracey Abrams, you may remember, lost a contentious election for governor of Georgia in 2018, one rife with mismanagement and chicanery. In response, she started a PAC called Fair Fight (www.fairfight.org) that works to keep elections free and fair while combating voter suppression. I encourage you to send them some money.