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The Democratic Strategist

Political Strategy for a Permanent Democratic Majority

Increasing Voter Turnout Requires Both Technical Fixes and Attitude Change

In her New York Times op-ed, “Increasing Voter Turnout for 2018 and Beyond,” Tina Rosenberg does an excellent job of distilling current issues associated with voter turnout and reforms needed to improve turnout. An excerpt:

One way for campaigns to get their voters to the polls is to recruit a good candidate who can inspire voters and run a competitive race…Then there’s painstaking fieldwork. All campaigns do it, but Donald P. Green, a professor at Columbia, said that many do it wrong. With Alan S. Gerber, Green wrote “Get Out the Vote,” which collected evidence from randomized controlled trials about what gets candidates’ supporters to the polls. “There’s a strong consensus that one of the few things that actually does increase turnout is contact, preferably in person,” said Green. “Shoe leather really works.” Especially when it’s a neighbor doing the door knocking.

…Even in 2018, pro-turnout factors will be undercut by numerous structural barriers — long-term obstacles intended to preserve the dominance of rich, white, older people by suppressing the votes of poorer, younger minorities.

Nevertheless, in the last few years, many states and cities have begun institutional reforms that make voting easier.

Denver is a leader. Coloradans have long been among the nation’s most enthusiastic voters, and last November, Denver set a personal best: 72 percent of those registered voted — much more than in most major cities. (The percentage was 67 in 2008, and 63 in 2012.)

“For us, this is a customer service issue,” said Amber McReynolds, Denver’s director of elections. “Whatever we can do to better serve our voters, we’re going to do.”…Denver mailed a ballot to every registered voter. Voters could fill it out at home and then mail it in or bring it to a drop box. Mailed ballots could be tracked with bar codes…Voting at home was popular; 92 percent of voters chose to do it. Those who did go to a polling place could do so anywhere in the city — near home or near work…There were other modernizations: People could register and vote on the same day. Those who moved had their voter registration changed automatically when they updated their driver’s license.

…The Illinois legislature, for example, just adopted automatic registration, by unanimous votes in both houses. If the governor signs it, then citizens who have contact with state agencies, including the motor vehicles department, will be automatically registered unless they decline.

Oregon was the first state to institute automatic registration, but now there are eight, as well as Washington, D.C. They include red states: Alaska, Georgia and West Virginia. Momentum is growing; so far this year, 32 states have introduced proposals to institute or expand it.

Rosenberg discusses a range of other remedies for low voter turnout, and she also calls attention to the problem of voter suppression. Also read reports by The Nation’s Ari Berman and others who cover the problem of voter suppression — the very deliberate practice of rigging and twisting election laws and otherwise interfering to prevent people of color and young voters from casting ballots.

The technical fixes to confront voter suppression are much-needed. But it’s also important that the Republican Party do some soul-searching about their commitment to prevent citizens from voting, based mostly on their race. The way it is now, with GOP control of all three branches of government, they see little need to change their commitment to voter suppression. Not one conservative pundit has even ventured a comment on this issue.

Gone are the Republican patriots of an early era who understood that their party should try to win the votes of all races, if they truly believed in democracy. Now it’s wink, wink, ‘voter fraud is the real problem,’ — a meme that no Republican leaders actually believe is the truth.

The only way to compel Republicans to take an honest look at how essentially unAmerican and morally compromised their party has become on the issue of free and fair elections is a resounding defeat at the polls. That should be the top priority for Democrats, certainly — but also for voters who want to restore balance and integrity to American government.

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