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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Time to Remember Election Reform

As plans are made for the new administration and the next Congress, there’s an issue in the background that would have been considered important, oh, say, a bit over a month ago: election reform. Now, as Ben Adler reports in the New Republic, it’s not getting much if any attention in Washington:

[T]he 2008 election was rife with the same problems that have bedeviled others in recent years. It was only because Barack Obama’s margin of victory was so healthy that the country was not waiting with bated breath to see how many provisional ballots were counted. So while the White House will soon be filled with someone who has been a leader on addressing voting rights in the Senate, the public pressure needed to move legislation through the meat grinder on Capitol Hill is noticeably absent.

Adler goes on to provide a useful summary of steps Congress might take to regularize rules for voter registration, including national Election Day registration, and to finally resolve accountability concerns about voting machines. He also notes that the trend towards more stringent state registration requirements might call for national action to protect voting rights.
The time is right for election reform legislation in Congress, for the simple reason that Republicans no longer have the power to block it; some GOP members might, given their political problems, even be reluctant to oppose election reform.
But with all the competing priorities in Washington right now, it would require some serious public support to make election reform anything like a front-burner issue. That could happen, but only if it happens soon:

Seeing as most of these types of disenfranchisement disproportionately hurt Democrats, voting rights advocates are hoping that full Democratic control of Washington for the first time in 14 years will allow some of the recent bills to finally pass. But whatever options the new Congress and White House pursue, they’d be smart to do it soon. Even people who dedicate their lives to studying electoral reform admit that it is not an issue that captures the popular imagination for long. “When it comes to election administration,” says Hayward, “The public cares about it for three weeks out of every four years.”

Democrats should strike while the iron is hot, or at least tolerably warm.

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