Why Make it Easier to Vote?

Election rules should be oriented towards increasing participation, not based on partisan calculations.

On the one hand, one could argue that voting in the US is not all that difficult.  First, fill out a 3×5 card’s worth of information and then show up on a day known well in advance to cast your ballot in usually a roughly 12-hour time frame.  After all, who couldn’t do that?  On the other hand, however, there are easier ways of registering citizens to vote (indeed, it could be done automatically) and having elections on a work day really can make it difficult for citizens to get to the polls.

Indeed, if we look around the world, almost all democracies (whether developed or developing cases) have weekend voting or declare a national holiday.  Further, most places have automatic registration linked to national identification cards.

Keep in mind:  the reason we vote on Tuesday is not because of some Ancient Wisdom from the Founders, but because election day was created back in the days of a highly rural population that required travel into town to vote.  This meant accounting for a day’s travel to and from the polling place.  Voting could not be on Sunday, because it was the Christian Sabbath, and it could not be on Saturday because that would require travel home on the Sabbath (or an extra long stay in town).  Monday voting was out for similar reasons.  So, we have Tuesday voting which makes it more difficult for persons with jobs, especially persons with hourly employment who cannot easily be late, leave early, or take extra long lunches to vote.

In the US we have made some accommodations for this inconvenience, at least in some states, including early voting, voting by mail, and so forth.

If one values representative democracy, and the notion of one person, one vote, one should value processes that help increase access to the ballot box and should also be open to reforming our current methods of voting.

However, the sad fact is that most discussions of public policy in these areas become nothing more that issues of partisan preferences (i.e., instead of “is this policy good for democracy?” the question is “is this policy good or bad for my party?”).

And so we get to the latest example via WRAL’a @NCCapitol blog:   GOP seeks to curb early voting

Two bills filed by Republican lawmakers seek to cut back early voting and eliminate same-day registration in North Carolina.

Senate Bill 428, filed by Sen. Jerry Tillman, R-Randolph, would cut the early voting period from two weeks to one and would eliminate same-day voter registration.

House Bill 451, filed by Rep. Edgar Starnes, R-Caldwell, goes even further. In addition to cutting early voting and same-day registration, it would also outlaw early voting on Sunday and straight-ticket voting.

The real kicker, to me, is the following:

“I just think that we will put some balance into the election process,” Starnes said.

All I can assume this means is that Starnes thinks that these practices help the Democrats and are detrimental to Republicans.   Increasing the number of participants in elections, however, is an increase in the quality of democratic feedback in the system.  If such moves actually do increase the participation of one side or the other, that simply underscores that the Tuesday-based model is flawed in that it helps one side over the other.   The more chances to participate, however, the more likely the effect is neutral with regard to helping one side or the other, but rather is closer to reflecting the actual will of the electorate.

Now, it is possible that one week is adequate for early voting, as opposed to two.  There is a reasonable argument to be had over the issue of how long the early voting period ought to be.

Interestingly, the voting on Sundays issues still lives:

The Sunday ban, in particular, would affect popular “Souls to the Polls” voting drives at African-American churches.

“I think Sundays just should be – some things you just shouldn’t do on Sundays, so I am just opposed to voting on Sunday,” Starnes said.

Quite frankly, I can see no reason for not to voting on Sundays.   If the Carolina Panthers can play football on Sundays, and if thousands of church-going Carolinians can go out to eat after church on Sundays, then surely Carolinians can vote on Sundays.  (Indeed, I am all for moving election day itself to Sundays on a national level).

FILED UNDER: US Politics
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is Professor of Political Science and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Troy University. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. The thing about early voting is that there’s not really any evidence that it increases voter turnout.

    I wrote about one study back in October 2010 and the authors of the study discuss it in this NYT Op-Ed

    That’snot to say it’s a bad idea, and I might even see myself taking advantage of it some times. But, it’s not going to cause me to be more inclined to vote in an election I’m not interested in participating in.

  2. @Doug Mataconis: It is a legit question.

    I would prefer, as noted, to go to Sunday voting as the standard.

    Of course, a more competitive electoral system would help as well.

  3. I can see people having some objections to weekend voting for religious reasons.

    And by religious, I mean, of course, the NFL 🙂

  4. matt bernius says:

    @Doug Mataconis:

    I can see people having some objections to weekend voting for religious reasons

    It seems to me that its easy to come up with problems with any given day of the week. I tend to think the best solution would be to have two days of voting — Saturday and Sunday.

    All that said, if the goal is to increase turnout, it’s hard to argue against weekend elections.

  5. Ron Beasley says:

    Oregon has had vote by mail for all elections since 2000, The main reason is was instituted was to save money not encourage voting. It did both. Washington joined Oregon in 2008 and in California you have the option.

  6. @matt bernius:

    All that said, if the goal is to increase turnout, it’s hard to argue against weekend elections.

    If you have a nice office or factory job which is strictly Monday to Friday, sure. Ask someone in retail how convenient weekend voting is. All the people I know in that situation work Saturday-Sunday and have off on slow days during the week.

  7. @Stormy Dragon:

    And I know many self-employed people for whom weekends are just another day that work has to get done.

  8. michael reynolds says:

    The problem is really quite simple from the GOP point of view: never should have let colored folk vote. Everything else follows from that. They do not like black and brown people voting. Anything else they say on the subject is a lie. This is Jim Crow redux.

  9. Gustopher says:

    In addition to limiting early voting, another commonly used tool is to allocate more voting machines and workers to suburbs, and fewer to the inner cities, leading to long lines of a darker hue.

    And, invalidating paper ballots cast in the wrong precinct is another fun trick — and one which people are more likely to run afoul of in polling places for a large number of precincts (those dark hued places, generally).

    I think one of the reasons Republicans have been having such a problem reaching African American voters is that they keep trying to deny them the right to vote.

  10. OzarkHillbilly says:

    As a resident of Washington County, Missouri, I went to the polls this last election with my naturalized citizen wife from Spain. I told her to bring her US passport, and brought mine as well. I was fully loaded for bear to make sure her vote counted for as much as any other US citizen and was fully prepared to spend the night in jail (not her, somebody has to bail me out) because I was going to raise a stink that even St Peter would smell at the Pearly Gates….

    As it worked out, there are not as many hispanic immigrants in Washington Co. as there are in Crawford Co. so I did not go to jail in 11/2012.

    Ain’t America great?

  11. Mikey says:

    We should do Saturday voting and move it earlier in the year so it’s warm outside. And then start a tradition of big community barbecues at the polling places on Election Day, like they have in Australia.

  12. OzarkHillbilly says:

    And think about that…. Executing one’s constitutional rights gets one put in jail based upon which county you live in.

    Ain’t America great?

  13. Tyrell says:

    I think that they have made voting and registration a lot easier. It is strange that people complain about long voting lines yet think nothing of waiting in line for hours to ride a roller coaster, get tickets for some event, or “black” Friday shopping to start.
    The early voting around here on the last Saturday before elections in November had longer lines than election day itself. Election workers here do have the authority to check registration, and ask for id. I saw a couple of people sent back to get proof of residence, such as s power bill. They had moved recently and had not registered their new address.
    As far as voting on Sundays, that may not work in a lot of places because many polling places are at churches and it would interfere with Sunday activities. But our pastor said he would love it: outdoor preaching, talking to the people, Christian singing and music going on, and free coffee/doughnuts!! A perfect opportunity for outreach to the community!

  14. Dazedandconfused says:

    I would adopt the Australian system of mandatory voting in a heartbeat.

    Might significantly reduce the focus on wedge issues. Seems a great deal of the silliness in our system is done to “get out the (outraged) vote”. It would instill a more stability, and we could use some of that. We seem to be having alternating waves of opposites, but individuals are not changing their views all that much. It’s just that a different batch bothers to show up.

    Takes out the voter suppression garbage too, of course.

  15. Argon says:

    @Tyrell:

    It is strange that people complain about long voting lines yet think nothing of waiting in line for hours to ride a roller coaster…

    Yeah, and these are exactly the same people! I know my grandmother was always willing to wait for hours on line for the rides but ask her to stand outside for 3 hours straight with her walker and we’d never hear the end of her complaining.

  16. superdestroyer says:

    Who cares? How many competitive elections will there in the future. As the Democratic Party becomes even more dominant, more elections will be like the special elections for the open Senate seat in Mass., where Ed Markey is going to win in a rout.

    Voting will be easy for voters who not be voting in a single race decided by single digit percentage difference. In a few years, I doubt if the media or most pundits will put in effort into covering a general election will every winner is already known.

    Instead of worrying about voter registration or popular election, maybe wonks and wannabes should be thinking about how to change the primary system so there there are at least a few competitive elections.

  17. Tsar Nicholas says:

    The cruel irony about our catastrophic decline post-Chicago ’68 is that if the minimum voting age had been set in the Constitution at 35 for the presidency, then 30 for the Senate, and 25 for the House, to match the Constitutional age eligibility requirements to hold those federal offices, we probably would have been able to have avoided it.

  18. Tony W says:

    @superdestroyer:

    maybe wonks and wannabes should be thinking about how to change the primary system so there there are at least a few competitive elections.

    Republicans benefit from gerrymandering far more than Democrats, as evidenced by their presence in government.

  19. mannning says:

    I read above the usual snark lines about Republicans that some unprincipled and voluable people employ here. Such fetishes are both childish and unbecoming of supposedly intelligent people. Perhaps such a judgement of intelligence was simply wrong, or perhaps we are dealing with idiots savant.

  20. Surreal American says:

    @mannning:

    I read above the usual snark lines about Republicans that some unprincipled and voluable people employ here.

    You could offer proof that the snarkers are wrong. What a novel concept! At least for a wingnut it is.

  21. mannning says:

    @Surreal American:

    By definition the snarkers are wrong–after all, they ARE snarkers! Prove them right if you can! This nation is going to sink rather fast financially in the next 8 to 10 months, largely due to the policies of the Obama administration, and the wild and sheeplike Democratic supporters that have had no idea what they were getting into with Obama and hisdicy crew, but voted for him anyway.Then, too, there are those that are now getting buyer’s remorse for their purchase of an Obama debt load that cannot be repayed. Too late for that now! Just watch for the devolution of the dollar from its perch as the world’s exchange currency, the mountain of newly printed dollars being created to try to pay off debts, and the growing inflation that will come. Then you will have your answer: the democrats have ruined this nation.

    We seem to have crawled out from under the stifling rug of progressivism here in Virginia, and managed to pass voter ID nicely. But, it was a near thing.

  22. superdestroyer says:

    @Tony W:

    Republicans would hold fewer seats in the Democrats were willing to breakup the minority-majority districts. HOwever, the Democrats cannot have it both ways: districts were very liberal blacks and Hispanics win by 50% and more competitive districts where moderate Democrats can compete against Republicans.

  23. Surreal American says:

    @mannning:

    Shorter Manning: Derp!

  24. @mannning:

    While it is likely true that the snark does not forward the conversation, let me point out that the unfortunate fact is any policy attempt to make voting more difficult that I have seen of late (if not in the last couple of decades) has been spearheaded by Republican politicians. I find this troubling.

    I would note, too, since we are trying to discuss the empirical and not snark, that there have been predictions of inflation for going on half a decade now, and yet this has not materialized. Perhaps this is because the predictions are based on flawed premises?

  25. Back to the GOP point: the fact of the matter is that Republicans believe, rightly or wrongly, that greater participation is to their electoral detriment. This is self-commentary on the GOP.

  26. Surreal American says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    While I agree that snark generally does not move the conversation forward, there are cases where it is the only valid response. Especially in the face of unrelenting derpness.

  27. Surreal American says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    There’s really nothing more to say. The GOP tacitly admits that it will be a minority party under conditions where true competition exists. Ironic for the party of “free markets”, isn’t it?

  28. John425 says:

    “Further, most places have automatic registration linked to national identification cards.”

    How is that any different than requiring an ID to vote?

  29. @John425:

    How is that any different than requiring an ID to vote?

    It is differen than the US system is the following rather important ways:

    1. It is universal (all citizens have government issued ID).

    2. It is consistent across all jurisdictions. (unlike our state-by-state patchwork of rules.

    3. It often means automatic registration.

  30. (I have zero problem with voter ID if all voters are provided said ID).

  31. Surreal American says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Question: If a state levied a fee for a voter ID, would you regard that as akin to a poll tax?

  32. mannning says:

    @
    Steven L. Taylor:

    I refer you to the book “Aftershock” for a detailed view of what David Weidemer and others have projected for the US economy. Further, I refer you to Porter Stansberry’s work along the same lines. One would have to show in great detail just why the data they are using is false, and thus their conclusions. Both of these groups have predicted a major depression within this year, or early in 2014. All we have to do to prove or disprove their predictions is to watch the financial pages for the next months. The key is the US Dollar losing its status as the world’s exchange currency, which quite a number of nations have promoted as confidence in the Dollar has reached dangerous lows. The unravelling kicks into high gear when that loss is official. Once we no longer have the exchange role, we will no longer be able to print our fiat dollars to pay foreign debts, which currently make up over 45% of our borrowing.

    Their recommendations for the average investor to survive today is a worthwhile read even if their predictions are badly out of kilter, though I am convinced enough to rearrange my investments accordingly. So I am putting my money on them.

  33. superdestroyer says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    The more conservative party does not benefit from more low imformation, poor voters going to the polls. How does it benefit the Republicans is more automatic Democratic Party voters go to the polls and just vote for anyone who has a (D) next to their name.

    Republicans at least have a theoretical chance of winning some of the swing voters. They have zero chance of winning poor or minority voters and thus have resort to gimmicks to try to limit the damage.

  34. mannning says:

    In my opinion there are two main voter conditions fighting each other : 1) Making voting as simple as possible; and, 2) Ensuring that individual voter fraud is minimized. Both conditions are satisfied when the voter can identify himself accurately and be able to cast a unique vote exactly one time. Casual identification using bills or other sketchy identity papers leaves the possibility open for multiple votes by the same person at different locations. Voter ID satisfies the need for accurate identification, and if it is free to the user, there should be no problem with voting. Given voter ID, the possibility for fraud has been reduced considerably. As has been pointed out, tying a national ID with registration for voting is the ultimate in voting ease with prevents.

    As a speculation, I believe voter fraud does take place by voting, and voting often, but more likely by miscounting or not counting valid votes after the votes are cast. One corrupt poll person can make a considerable dent in the totals, especially in a tight election. With two or more motivated and corrupt poll workers at the same station, and at a number of stations, the election can likely be swayed.

    I do believe that a relatively foolproof network of voting machines can be constructed, which would attack this corruption possibility head-on. This task is decidedly not simple and inexpensive, however; witness the successes of cyber attacks aiming at sophisticated systems here in the US over the internet or phone lines. I would not want to trade local vulnerabilities for more global ones.

  35. @mannning:

    Ensuring that individual voter fraud is minimized

    Let me stop you there.

    1. There is not evidence of significant fraud that voter ID would fix.

    2. If the real issue is fraud, then let’s have a free ID that includes automatic registration.

  36. mannning says:

    @Steven L. Taylor:

    Sorry, I believe it is necessary to ensure that voter fraud is not an issue, so I cannot stop there.

    Lack of evidence if fraud is not the same as absence of fraud, as you well know. If there is any prospect of fraud that we can prevent relatively easily, and at a reasonable cost then it should be done all the way up to the aggregating points. Trust in these days devolves into machines that cannot be spoofed or tampered with, and I am not pointing at any specific party or group.

    I suspect that there are several reasons that more evidence of voter fraud has not been detected, excluding the obvious that there is no fraud to be found. In my home state, it was quite normal in earlier times for one or the other party to send trucks out into the countryside to gather people up to vote, and in the process make sure that they have a good time (booze and food) and vote the right way–often. My two uncles were newspaper men, one a City Editor, and the other a VP for Finance in my home town, and I grew up with their stories of fraud, abuse, and chicanary around election times. Fraud was very difficult to prove, so they couldn’t report it fully, to their frustration. My father was in the Roadbuilder’s Association and contributed his stories of how contractors made sure that their state contracts were supported by candidates, and how they also sent their trucks out to gather voters for their side. This was very serious business, and a wrong step by anyone could result in their being beaten or killed.

    I do not believe that the human capacity for fraud has lessened over the years, so any prevents we can install are all to the good. (Voter IDs would not have helped these “sweet gatherings”, unless they tried to vote more then once , of course.)