Write-Minded Comments (14)

An oft repeated lyric in the official GOP Impeachment Talking Points chorus is, “If people don’t like what this Prez is doing, they can take their dissatisfaction to the polls in 2020.”

The glaring fallacy here, of course, is that if Despicable D is allowed to continue pressuring foreign powers to dig up dirt on his strongest opponents and meddle in our elections, by November 2020 those polls his apologists refer to will be well and truly fixed.

My question, though:  assuming a free and fair election on the day, will we have the voter turnout to turn the tide and flush the orange turd out of office?

Turns out, voter turnout is a partisan issue.

The more people show up at the polls, the more progressive candidates are elected and progressive measures passed.  Well aware, Republican lawmakers and their hard-Right devotees work assiduously to make it as difficult as possible to register and to vote, especially for certain demographics.

Conservative organizations have been known to show their support for Republican candidates by sending Democratic voters misleading mailers containing erroneous deadlines for absentee ballot submission.  Republican presidents (Reagan, Bush Sr., Bush Jr.) appointed the five Supreme Court justices that gutted the Voting Rights Act of 1965.  On the pretext of removing non-citizens from voter rolls, Republican-led purges dropped at least 17 million bona fide Americans from the rolls between 2016 and 2018 (read all about it in the Brennan Center for Justice’s REPORT).

The Republican in charge of the 2016 purge that knocked 120,000 voters off Brooklyn’s rosters was dismissed from his post when official claims that the purge affected a “broad cross-section” of the electorate were proven false; in fact, the purge disproportionately impacted the city’s majority-Hispanic districts.  The most pervasive impact of purging hits minority populations in the South.  From 2016 to 2018, the median purge rate in jurisdictions that previously had been covered by Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was 40% higher than in other jurisdictions. (Section 5 prohibited jurisdictions with a history of discrimination from changing their voting rules without approval from the U.S. Attorney General or U.S. District Court for D.C.)  Had the purge rates been the same, more than 1.1 million people would have stayed on the rolls.

The Republicans already have the votes they need:  weighted ballots from traditionally conservative rural areas and the support of ‘Murica’s racists.  After decades of successful gerrymandering, the GOP has elections in the bag . . . as long as voter turnout stays low.

credit: Tom Sawyer’s Photo Stream

Democrats like a high turnout, though not enough, it seems, to make it a top priority.  Fact Tank (the Pew Research Center’s real time news-in-numbers platform) did a survey in January 2019 (read it HERE) that identifies Dems’ leading concerns as health care, education, the environment, and Medicare.  The party’s official stance is that the right to vote and have your vote counted is an essential freedom, and it opposes laws that place “unnecessary” restrictions on those trying to exercise that freedom.  But when comes to putting its full weight behind automatic voter registration, ending gerrymandering, or protecting voting rights, the party takes its cue from its mascot — the jackass.

I’m concerned about health care, education, the environment, and my blessed Medicare, too.  But since the 2016 election, I’ve been putting most of my political-action energy into immigrants’ rights (a locally-relevant issue as well as a moral imperative) and, more to the point of this post, GOTV (Get Out the Vote).

There are nations — developed, 1st World, democratic, capitalist nations — with astonishingly impressive voter turnout.  About 90-91% of eligible German voters cast ballots on election days, 93% of Canadians consistently show up at the polls, and Australia snags the gold with an enviable 96% turnout.

Voting is mandatory in Australia.  The Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) hard-sells registration prior to federal elections with massive advertising and public relations campaigns.  It secures the youth vote by means of registration outreach during high school/university orientation weeks and with “provisional enrollment”; pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds that automatically adds them to the electoral roll on their 18th birthday.  Under its “Direct Enrollment” program, the AEC taps reputable third parties, like the Department of Human Services, state road-traffic authorities, and the Australian Tax Office, for the addresses of those who are eligible to register (citizens 18 and older).  It may follow through with an enrollment transaction or, if eligibility details can be independently verified, the AEC enrolls the person directly without them having to lift a finger.

By way of comparison, voter turnout in America’s most recent elections was about 56%.  The Census Bureau will tell you it was more like 60%, but political scientists who study such things insist the Census Bureau has a habit of over-inflating this statistic. Ostensibly, voter turnout is represented by the equation votes cast ÷ number of eligible votersIn reality, calculations are based on the estimated voting-age population (VAP).

Not everyone of voting age is eligible to vote — not here, not anywhere — so using the VAP to calculate turnout is bound to produce wonky tallies.  Eligibility is particularly complex in America, as criteria vary from state to state.  A convicted murderer in Vermont can vote while in prison, but a convicted perjurer in Mississippi is forever barred from the voting booth.  Confusion about eligibility is rampant in this nation and absolutely contributes to our crap voter-turnout rates.

Ignoring state rules and reqs for the moment, the broad-strokes provisos for joining the VAP are:

  • be a U.S. citizen
  • meet your state’s residency requirements (homelessness does not disqualify you)
  • be 18 years old on or by Election Day
  • register to vote by your state’s registration deadline

Regarding that last point, North Dakota doesn’t require voter registration.  And since July of this year, 20 states and the District of Columbia have some version of same day registration (SDR).

SDR means qualified residents can register to vote and cast a ballot during the early voting period and/or on Election Day.  North Carolina only allows SDR during a specific portion of early voting.  New Mexico enacted SDR legislation, but is implementing it in stages over several years.  California has had SDR since 2012, but until a few days ago, the state restricted registration to select locations, like official election offices, rendering it far less effective.  While this blog was waiting to be posted (no power for days and still no internet, thanks to PG&E and AT&T — don’t get me started), the Governor signed a new-and-improved SDR bill into law.  From here on out, Californians will be able to register on the day at their precinct polling stations. (Well done, Gov!)

Even with limitations and restrictions, same-day registration is good for voter turnout.  Since most SDR states have high voter turnout to begin with, it’s difficult to assess the extent of SDR’s influence. That said, studies show an uptick in voter numbers and turnout percentages immediately following the implementation of same-day registration, with an average increase of 5%.  Nor does SDR seem to affect partisan outcomes or skew benefits toward specific populations, so passing and enacting SDR legislation should be a nationwide slam-dunk.

Only it ain’t.  Maine has had super-easy SDR since 1973.  Forty-three years later, Election Day 2016, the map of no-holds-barred, full-access SDR states looked like this:

Same-day registration is a big deal, because registration is a real sticking point in our electoral process.  That 56% voter turnout in the last election?  That represents 87% of registered voters.  So while nearly half the VAP sat out last election, nearly 9-out-of-10 registered voters went ahead and cast their ballots.

In most OECD nations (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, founded in 1961, promotes economic progress and world trade among its 36 (European and North American) member countries), the disparity between VAP and voter turnout is about 7 percentage points.  In the U.S. the gap spreads to 30 percentage points.

A few of these points can be attributed to the difference between the (smaller) voting-age and (larger) voting-eligible populations.  But the root cause of this gargantuan discrepancy is that in America, individuals bear the responsibility for getting themselves registered — and in many parts of this nation, that is no easy trick.

I’ve already railed against state-to-state eligibility inconsistencies, purge programs, and the lack of same-day voter registration.  Mandatory identification regulations that target the poor and minorities are also on the rise these days.  In some areas of the country, designated voter registration entities like the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) fail to carry out their official responsibilities as specified in the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA), depriving tens of thousands of people of an opportunity to register.  Confusion over the voting rights of felons means many people with criminal convictions are unaware they are eligible to register and vote.  Suppression tactics — challenging voters throughout the election process and outright voter intimidation on the way to and within polling stations — discourage countless others.  Guidelines for dismissing provisional ballots are completely arbitrary; an appalling number of them are rejected each election.

credit: Boston Globe via Getty Images

These practices and rights’ violations severely damage the integrity of our electoral system, give the lie to free and fair elections, and go far in explaining why only about 70% of eligible Americans are registered to vote.

I’m not so naïve as to think that the unregistered 30% would necessarily uphold that honorable 87% turnout rate were they all to suddenly sign up.  Still, if just 1-in-10 of them cast a ballot on Election Day, it would add 3-4 percentage points to our turnout total.  In a land where elections are so often won by paper-thin margins, an addition like that would be nothing to sneer at.

The most effective way to counter poor voter turnout is to tear down the barriers to voter registration that unfairly disenfranchise the underprivileged and poor. Funding voter education, launching aggressive voter outreach programs, and instituting automatic and same-day voter registration would do wonders for our ailing participatory democracy.

Just one catch.  Only registered voters can take that agenda to the polls.

Risa Aratyr @ October 11, 2019