Atlanta In Rome I was talking in the halls of the Italian Parliament to policy makers and others about Democracy in the XXI Century, where we had an engaging conversation about the role of community organizations at the grassroots level increasing democracy and the disturbing trends in the United States through various repressive voter regulations, especially new voter identifications, to suppress the vote of lower income and minority citizens. Italians had trouble getting their minds wrapped around this problem because voting is mandatory there and the government provides identification for all citizens, so this is an easy system.
It turns out I was sugar-coating the problem. Picking up a copy of the Times in the Atlanta airport as I changed planes for home, I was alerted to the new Pew Research Center study on the voter registration system in the United States. What a mess and a scandal for any pretense we might claim for democratic practice, rather than theory!
Right from the beginning it is clear we need a federal, universal registration system. The Pew results indicated that 12.5% of active registrations are invalid, while over 51 million people adding up to 25% of the potential electorate are simply not registered at all. And that’s just an introduction to the mess since they also found that 1.8 million dead people are still registered as active and another million more than that are registered in more than one state. Another 12 million are in such disarray that mailing to these potential voters to correct the problems would be unlikely to find them without a local post-person breaking a hard sweat in the struggle.
For the Republican-haters, Tea-people, and Fox-fiends-and-friends that constantly try to get lathered up about ACORN’s old voter registration efforts, this should be an indelible and unavoidable lesson. The real problem is that the whole system simply doesn’t work! This is not local control, but anarchy!
The Times quote a law professor at Yale saying, “Everyone else in a modern democracy does it [voter registration] better….” The list of countries that maintain national programs and registries that tower over the US-mess includes of course some European countries like Sweden, Belgium, and Germany but of course the first country to allow women to vote, Australia, which also has mandatory voting, is on the list along with Peru and Argentina, where ACORN International organizes, and which might not be seen as models for democratic practice by some Americans. I dare say that Italy would also have bragging rights here as well.
The coup de grace for the right and the generally partisan mess both parties have made of this in the USA, has to be the data that Pew reported on the cost of the system to taxpayers with some states like Oregon costing more than $4 per voter in maintenance costs for their system. Canada, where ACORN International also works, registers everyone at 35 cents per voter and has a 93% success rate in pulling in eligible voters. Want to save some taxpayers money, right-wing comrades? Then join with me in making the case everywhere we can for a automatic national registration system (the US certainly knew how to make it work during the draft!) and lower the obstacles to voting including considering realistically the need to join other democracies in mandatory voting.
Meanwhile in the US the identification program being pushed into law in a number of states stands to reduce the rolls by over 2 million voters who will simply not have any identification so will be turned away at the polls. Fox News is interviewing me about all of this at the end of February, and it’s hard not to conclude that everything about registration seems polarized with the Right trying to prevent voting aggressively and the Left not doing nearly enough to offset the problem or make this the cause it needs to be.
The results are clear. The United States likes to talk about democracy, just not have to practice it!