In case you haven’t been paying attention, Republicans in some state legislatures have been trying valiantly to make it harder for people to vote by chipping away at long-standing policies that have traditionally made it easier to vote and sneaking in policies that the Federal government thought they abolished long ago. The introduction of ID requirements, shortening early voting windows, taking away the ability for citizens to register and vote on the same day, and more. The purpose of this isn’t to make it harder on everyone or, as Republicans claim, to cut down on voter fraud, but to disenfranchise voters more likely to vote Democrat.
The good news is that, in some states, the citizens are fighting back. Folks in Maine voted to keep same day registration and Ohio’s new election law is up for repeal. The Justice Department is even getting involved, recently telling South Carolina that it’s new voter ID law violates the Voting Rights Act, so they can’t have it. The free and fair elections crowd hasn’t won every battle, but the war is not lost.
As heinous as all this is, I’m not real surprised by it. After all, most of the Republicans in these state legislatures rode in on then same wave of apathy and downright stupidity that allowed the Republicans to get control of the U. S. House. All those whiny people who weren’t happy that Obama didn’t do everything all at once and decided to stay home and teach him a lesson also stayed home from elections that decided who their local and state elected officials would be. And now they’re paying for it.
Here’s my thing: I’m not 100% happy with Obama, either. I’m not and never have been 100% happy with Democrats in general. But guess what I’ve not seen Democrats try to do recently? Make it harder for people to vote because they know they’ll lose the next election1.
So what’s the solution here? Well, from the examples in Ohio and Maine and Wisconsin and elsewhere we clearly need more people engaged and voting. Here in America we tend to have a problem in that area. In 2008, which probably saw a slightly higher turnout, only around 57% of eligible voters actually voted.
Why do so few of us vote? Last summer I attended the Personal Democracy Forum 2011 and saw a presentation by a group of students working on a project called TurboVote. They offered up some compelling reasons why more people don’t vote:
- Voting doesn’t fit the way we live.
- Voting is inconvenient.
- Voting hasn’t caught up to our current level of technology.
All of these things are true. The TurboVote project was designed to help fix some of those problems. You should watch the video and click over to their website for all the details, but I’ll give you the basic gist.
TurboVote aims to make it as easy to vote as it is to use Netflix. You go to their website, tell them where you live, and fill in the appropriate information for registering to vote or registering for an absentee ballot. TV will then send you the appropriate forms for your location all filled out and waiting for you to sign them. You’ll have to actually mail them to your local board of elections.
Once election time comes you election board will send you an absentee ballot. You vote and mail it back, thus making voting far less inconvenient all around. TurboVote will send you reminders via email or text that the election is coming up and what your deadlines are for sending your ballot.
I really like this idea because it eliminates all the logistical reasons people have for not voting. No long lines at polling stations, no having to get time off of work, no staying in due to inclement weather.
I also like it because TurboVote won’t just remind you in presidential election years but for every election, local, state, or national. The result, they hope, is that people will get more involved with politics on a local level, as voter turnout for non-presidential elections is less. But if you got a reminder for every election and could mail the ballot in, why wouldn’t you vote?
Lately I’m realizing more and more that real change happens locally2 (something I also learned at PdF2011). After all, it’s not congressional Republicans who are leading the attack on voting rights, though I’m sure the idea came from the national party.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if, by June of this year, we could get a million people signed up on TurboVote? What if we could get more? How would easy voting change the landscape in 2012, 2014, 2016 and beyond? Something to think about.
- I also haven’t seen anyone put forward a viable third party candidate for president ever, which is the core of the problem. The entire two-party system is borked, so I’m going with the party less likely to cater to the slice oft he country that wants things I absolutely despise. [↩]
- Note how third-party politicians can get elected on the local level, perhaps there’s a lesson in that… [↩]