The PCUSA’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness (ACSWP) has released a report entitled Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform. It’s a fairly lengthy item (21 pages), so I can’t go into all of it, but there are a few excerpts from it that I think are worth examining:
The United States, the oldest constitutional democracy in the world, is one of only eleven (of the estimated 120 democracies) that do not guarantee to their citizens the right to vote. Article I of the Constitution allows each state to define for itself which of its citizens have the right to vote in both state and national elections. While the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments prohibit states from denying the franchise on the basis of race, sex, ability to pay a poll tax, or being eighteen years of age or above, states are still able to deny voting rights to selected groups, most notably to prison inmates and to persons with a prior felony conviction.
Most states allow felons to petition for restoration of their right to vote, and I agree that those that don’t should. But the report seems to suggest that such restoration should be automatic, which I think assumes a lot about the rehabilitative abilities of our prison system. Far more odd is the suggestion that there is something wrong with the idea of depriving prison inmates the right to vote. The franchise is a responsibility of citizenship, and once one has demonstrated contempt for the law by committing a prison-worthy crime, it seems that losing the right to vote is a way for society to express its disapproval of criminal behavior.
In the United States, by contrast, the burden to register to vote (and to maintain that registration) is placed upon the individual citizen, and states and localities differ widely in determining where, how, and when a person can register….A section of the 1965 Voting Rights Act was aimed specifically at eliminating tactics used by southern states to prevent blacks from registering, and in 1993 Congress passed the Motor-Voter law intended to ease the registration
burden for all Americans. But only seven states have taken the much more effective step of allowing “same day” registration, allowing citizens to register on Election Day.
Throughout this document, there is the assumption that anything that states do that prevent anyone from voting under any circumstances (registration requirements, ID requirements, disenfranchisement of prisoners, etc.) is an expression of racial animus. The possibility and even existence of voting fraud is dismissed, and the possibility that any requirements laid on voters is chalked up to racism and a desire to keep people from voting. ACSWP proposes “same day” registration as a way of making it easier for voters to register, which raises the question: why is it easier to register to vote on a single day of the year, than during the months ahead of time? They also advocate “universal registration, which would automatically enroll every citizen as a voter:
As noted by FairVote, universal registration would help ensure that the more than fifty
million unregistered Americans, representing nearly one-third of the eligible electorate, would be eligible to vote on election day. Since unregistered voters are disproportionately young, low-income, or people of color, such a move could potentially have a dramatic impact on voter turnout and election results.
The report insists on putting everything in demographic categories, and its assertions may or may not be correct (I simply don’t have the time to research their claims). But even if this is correct, it doesn’t demonstrate that any particular barriers are being placed before the young, the poor, “people of color,” or any other group except those who, for whatever reason, choose not to register and vote. Here’s a philosophical question that ACSWP would probably rather not face: why should we as a society facilitate voting by those who aren’t interested? And why would doing so strengthen democracy?
There are various methods by which universal registration can be accomplished in the United States. One of the more widely supported proposals, which we support, is the registration of high school students—making registration a requirement for graduation or for community
service credit, or registering all students age seventeen and older as part of Constitution Day on September 17 each year.
One almost feels sorry for ACSWP in having to point out that fully one quarter or more of high school students don’t graduate, and relatively few do any form of community service for credit. I’d be willing to bet that the number of non-voters among those who don’t graduate from high school is far higher than the general population, so this idea would do little or nothing to get at what they think is a problem.
Other means that have been proposed to achieve universal registration include automatically
registering citizens as they obtain a driver’s license…
I believe that registering to vote when one gets or renews a driver’s license is available in every state. I know that when I moved to Virginia, I got a new license and registered to vote at the same time, and the latter took far less time (less than ten minutes) than the former. Once again, I’ve got to ask: if folks are so unconcerned about voting that they can’t take advantage of the opportunity afforded to them when they get their driver’s license, why should we make it an easier for them?
The report makes a recommendation that would warm the heart of ACORN and any other vote fraud enabler:
For generations, discriminatory practices such as poll taxes and literacy tests prevented people of color from voting. Today so-called “antifraud” legislation is being introduced in some southern states that will recreate similar filters by requiring voters to produce new types of identification on election day. No longer will documents such as a birth certificate or social security card suffice to prove a prospective voter’s identity. A drivers license or an accepted state-issued alternative will now be required, a burden that will heavily fall on low-income voters, and therefore also persons of color. The elderly will also be disadvantaged.
I like the reference to “southern states,” a not-so-subtle suggestion that having picture IDs to register to vote is simply an extension of Jim Crow. This issue has actually been decided by the Supreme Court, which in a case from Indiana (which, last time I checked, was never part of the Confederacy), said that it wasn’t a burden to ask people to prove that they are who they say they are when they register to vote. And those “state-issued alternative[s]” that will be “a burden that will heavily fall on low-income voters, and therefore also person of color”? They’re free.
There’s a lot more–abolishing the Electoral College, instant-runoff voting, proportional voting (which would effectively change our system into something more closely resembling, for example, Italy, which is a system that surely deserves emulation), etc. Not all the recommendations are bad, though as with the matter of voter ID they frequently are simply echoes of ACORN and Democratic Party activist ideas, and constitute an open invitation to fraud, something ACSWP in its idealism thinks doesn’t even happen in our democracy.