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).