As you may have heard, Oregon passed a law so that people are automatically registered to vote when they go to the DMV to renew their drivers licenses. I am, of course, totally in favor of this. It is an outrage that people even have to register to vote. What is that all about anyway? For at least the last three decades, newborns automatically get social security numbers. We know who the citizens are so we know who is eligible to vote. And all this nonsense of revoking voting rights for felons in the more backward states is part of the same thing. It is all about limiting the voting franchise. So hooray for Oregon!
As Domenico Montanaro at NRP noted, the Oregon move is an interesting contrast to so many deep red states that are doing everything they can to make voting more difficult. One thing about us liberals is that we actually believe in democracy. Maybe it is because we know that in a fair fight — idea versus idea — we win. Or maybe it is just that we know that our policies are more popular. I don’t know. But it isn’t just Oregon that is moving in this direction:
The Republicans who are against this law argue that this could harm the privacy rights of individuals. That’s a laugh out loud complaint. If you are a driver, the government already knows all about you. And anyone can “opt out” of the program. I’m not clear who exactly is going to be interested in doing that. The conservative freaks will already be registered and the unregistered are unlikely to care one way or the other.
That gets to an important question, and the point of Montanaro’s article: would automatic voter registration increase turnout? We don’t know, but it certainly won’t hurt. I suspect that it will increase turnout by a small, but measurable, amount. The more important issue is that registration is a precondition for voting. Here in California, if it is four weeks before the election and a citizen decides that she wants to vote — it is too late. You have to be registered 30 days before the election — long before most people really start to pay attention. So automatic registration is a good thing.
As time goes on, conservatives are more and more open about the fact that they really don’t want people voting. Their policies are unpopular. They are dependent on the Fox News set to win elections — people who are convinced that they are the most knowledgeable people but turn out to be more ignorant of actual facts than people who don’t follow politics at all. And that brings us to another bit of news this last week. Apparently, Holly Yan on CNN posted something that the president said and reported the completely distorted headline, Obama: Maybe It’s Time for Mandatory Voting. That, of course, got the right wing media echo chamber going. Ed Kilgore reported about the whole thing, How Anti-Obama Myths Get Started.
But you have to wonder about half of the American political system that is so against this idea. To me, voting is something that we owe to our democracy, just as surely as we owe taxes. So there is nothing wrong with the idea of taxing people an extra couple of bucks for not voting. I can see problems with such a law, but I don’t see the very idea being the leading edge of tyranny. “Obama wants to make sure we all vote; it’s tyranny! We want people to be able to take jobs for a dollar an hour; that’s freedom!”
Anything that increases the ability of the people to vote is a good thing. And anything that encourages them to vote is a good thing. That’s not a controversial thing for a liberal to say. And the more we increase the ease of voting, the more it will become clear that conservatives oppose us, not for any good reasons, but because they don’t believe in democracy.