By definition, you get a more robust democracy and leaders more reflective of the population as a whole when more people vote. Democracy has little meaning if it doesn’t rest on the broadest possible franchise. And, if a political party has confidence in its agenda and message, it should want as many voters as possible.
That’s not the current state of affairs in the United States. You would have to be living under a rock not to see that widespread barriers to voting (from voting-roll purges to closing polling places to voter ID laws) have been deployed by Republicans to get a whiter, more conservative electorate.
Each controversial move to block registration or make voting more difficult that now-Gov. Brian Kemp instituted in Georgia had a disproportionately adverse effect on nonwhites. If you think that’s all a coincidence, I’ve got a bridge to sell you.
Democrats such as Stacey Abrams, whom Kemp defeated, have begun to litigate and try to legislate against voter-suppression measures. However, the fundamental, disturbing point is too infrequently asserted: Republicans want more white people to vote and will undermine democracy (i.e., throw up barriers to voting) to get a smaller, whiter electorate. Republicans, to be blunt, have not only become wedded to racism but also hostile to democracy itself.
Unfair? Well, let’s test this out. NPR reports:
The United States is almost alone among industrial countries and other democracies in putting most of the onus of registering to vote on individual voters, a sometimes cumbersome process that may explain a large portion of why turnout rates in the U.S. are lower than in many other countries.
But the increasing adoption of automatic voter registration over the past five years has led to a big boost in the voter rolls in states that have implemented the new system, according to a new study by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
The states that have implemented automatic registration have seen huge increases in registration, “between 9 and 94 percent in seven states and the District of Columbia, due to their automatic registration systems. The increase was greatest in Georgia (93.7 percent) and lowest in the District of Columbia (9.4 percent).” Right now, 11 states and the District of Columbia use automatic registration. Six are beginning to implement it.
The vast majority of states that have automatic registration are blue states (e.g., Oregon, California, New Mexico, New Jersey, Illinois, Connecticut, Vermont and Rhode Island) or leaning blue (Colorado). In addition to Georgia, Alaska is the only solidly red state to utilize it.
Why, then, shouldn’t we implement automatic voter registration and other techniques that maximizing voting (vote by mail?) everywhere? Let’s put aside the bogus issue of fraud; the only systematic fraud we’ve seen of late is in North Carolina where Republicans snatched up absentee ballots from some neighborhoods with higher percentages of nonwhite voters.
Every Democrat on the ballot in 2020 — from city councilman to president — should challenge their opponent to support franchise-expansion. And if, as we expect, Republicans refuse to take them up on it, it’s finally time to hit Republicans with the entirely supportable charge that they don’t want more nonwhites voting — and they really don’t believe in democracy. (I suppose if they thought they could get away with it, they would support re-implementing property ownership as a condition of voting.)
Republicans should take some time to self-reflect. Faced with the reality that they have chased off nonwhite voters at an alarming rate, they’ve now morphed into the party of white grievance, xenophobia and racism. The only way to win with that kind of message in a racially pluralistic society is to make sure the electorate isn’t so pluralistic.
Wouldn’t it be better — for their consciences, their long-term success (since we are heading toward majority-minority jurisdictions in many places) and our democracy — to stop their herculean efforts to reduce voting and instead figure out how to appeal to the country as it is, not as they have carved it up to sustain power?
Republicans have to decide if they believe in this democracy stuff. Right now, it sure seems like they don’t. And they should be called on it — loudly and consistently.