The big news over the past few of years has been the rise of voter ID laws and many other efforts designed to make voting harder than it already is. This is being done almost exclusively by conservatives. I don’t doubt the sincerity of conservative voters; they’ve been manipulated for years into thinking that if only voting were fair then Ted Cruz would be President for Life. It’s the conservative elites who have pushed this disingenuous narrative that voter fraud is a problem that must be fixed.
Think about it in the opposite way. If there is a legal voter who is stopped from voting, this is what I will call institutional voter fraud. Voting, as it is construed by most people, is a right. It isn’t something that one should have to earn. On the right, people are concerned about votes being “canceled out” by fraudulent votes, but there is no concern about votes being canceled out by them simply not being allowed. This is where the pathetic number of actual fraudulent votes is important: to stop a handful of cases of voter fraud, we create a hundred or thousand times as many cases of institutional voter fraud. That is what the voter ID campaigns are: a form of (currently legal) voter fraud.
Even as conservatives have been working to stop democracy, there are places where work is being done to expand voting rights. The Brennan Center for Justice puts out a Voting Laws Roundup each year with the good and bad news. And it isn’t all blue states either. For example, Louisiana recently passed a law that would allow 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote when they apply for driver’s licenses. And Oklahoma expanded access to absentee ballots to people living on tribal lands. But as usual, the only red state doing anything big was Utah, which established a “pilot program for election day registration.”
I’m very pleased that my home state of California has been on the leading edge of this, and we made a massive step forward over the weekend. The Los Angeles Times reported, Governor Brown Approves Automatic Voter Registration for Californians. It isn’t perfect. It is tied to the state DMV. When people get or renew a driver’s license, they will automatically be registered to vote. But given this is California, that is the vast majority of people. The system doesn’t require people to register, of course. They may opt-out if they wish. But the default will be to register them. This will result in up to 7 million more people registered to vote. The system will not be fully operational until June 2016.
I wonder about my own commitment to democracy. If I were a conservative, would I say what I hear so many conservatives say, “I don’t want people to vote unless they are well informed like me!”? I’d like to think that I would be in favor of democracy regardless. But I recall when I was a libertarian being fairly disinterested in voter turnout. Regardless, I think that most people in America do believe in democracy. And like so many things in US politics, the distinction between the left and the right is clear: the left believes in people voting and the right does not.