For decades, we in America have lamented our voter turnout. There has been widespread concern about not only the 60 percent participation in presidential elections, but the drop-off to about 40 percent in off years and the miserable turnout for local elections and primaries that often doesn’t reach 20 percent. So why do Republicans in key states seem intent on preventing certain citizens from voting?
The critics of our system cite European countries that continuously have turnout numbers between 70 percent and 80 percent. (Austria, Sweden and Italy usually hit the 80 percent mark.) They point to how hard we make it for citizens to register, the problem with requiring additional documents at polling places and the recent passage of laws to combat so-called “voter fraud.”
We can go one of two directions in this country: We can make voting easier or we can make it harder. It is difficult to understand why some Republicans desire to make it harder. It is even more difficult to understand their desire to stop African-Americans, Hispanics and young people from voting, unless, of course, you take the view that Republicans have cynically decided to suppress the vote of these more Democratic-leaning groups.
The New York Times editorial board today pointed to those who are trying to make voting easier and those who are trying to make it harder. It cited six states that have recently created online registration systems and four that have either allowed voters under 18 to pre-register or put in place election day registration or expanded early voting.
Sadly, the Times also pointed to the 15 states that have passed new restrictions on voting that are mostly controlled by Republicans. 11 states have put in place restrictive voter ID laws, reduced time for early voting was passed in eight states, and some students are being prevented from voting where they reside for college.
According to he Times, 10 states have made it more difficult to even register to vote. A total of 34 states now have restrictive voter ID laws.
One of the most outrageous aspects of this movement by Republican operatives is that it is combating a problem that doesn’t exist. Voter fraud is not a serious problem in our elections, but preventing key groups of minorities, poor people and the young from exercising their constitutional rights certainly is becoming one.
We need to open up our electoral system, not close it. We need to have universal voter registration at 18. We need to have more early voting, not less, more vote by mail, not less, more consolidation of voting days, not less, and more use of technology to provide online registration. We need to explore weekend voting and also new ways to clean up voter lists and keep them current.
At the end of the day, it is time for Republicans to stop trying to game the system and win elections by denying citizens the right to vote. It will only come back to bite them – and bite them hard.