Voter Registration Periods are Over, Now’s the Time for GOTV

New Orleans       Georgia is scaring the Republicans.  Barriers to voter registration dropped over the last two years as the result of lawsuits and legislative action that made registration and renewal more accessible through automatic procedures that allow a voter to opt out of registering, but otherwise enfranchise them.  The results have been significant.

Reporting in the Wall Street Journal indicated that the change “helped fuel a 15% increase in Georgia’s active voter rolls to about 6.3 million in September from about 5.5 million in November 2016.  Black registered voters rose 15%, Hispanic voters 40%, and Asian and Pacific Islander voters rose 36%.  The number of women who are registered to vote increased 13% in the period and white registered voters went up by about 10%.”  All of that seems like good news, except for one simple fact, which the Republicans have understood very well for years.  Once you reduce the barriers, more potential voters are enfranchised.  Given demographic changes in Georgia and the growth of minority populations that means that more of this enlarged pool tends to favor Democratic candidates.  Thirteen states and the District of Columbia have voter registration laws that roughly align with Georgia’s.  All of which is why Republicans in many states attempt to suppress the vote.

Leveling the playing field so that it balances evenly with democratic governance based on voter accountability is a good thing for everyone, regardless of the partisan politics that tries to tilt towards authoritarianism.  Registration alone just signs up all of the players.  It doesn’t put them into the game.  An Oregon political scientist found that despite the 5% increase in that state’s registration, the “turnout effects were relatively modest” with about 30% of the new registrants voting.  New registrants who enroll after aggressive outreach and registration campaigns tend to vote in higher percentages than the rest of the population, but the Oregon figures seem to indicate that default auto-registrants are less motivated, so their participation would more likely be triggered by the campaign.

Voter registration periods for the mid-terms in many states like Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana for example are now over, so the real push now has to be to get people out to vote.  Community radio stations are being encouraged to run GOTV public service announcements in regular rotation to keep the election date and the importance of voting in front of citizens.  For the next month this needs to be a constant push.

How could that be a bad thing?  Let’s get it done!


Excitement Stirring Over a Mass-Based Party’s Potential

Members and friends gather for Edinburgh screening

Edinburgh      Unison is the 2nd largest union in the United Kingdom with a giant membership throughout the country in a wide variety of workplaces.  The screening of The Organizer and a chance to meet members of ACORN’s affiliate, Living Rent, and ACORN Scotland, brought people together in one of Unison’s meeting rooms in the top floor of their building, reached by an amazing spiral staircase running the length of the building.

Talking to members before and after the showing there was a consistent and surprising subcurrent of plain old optimism, rare in my visits.  Sniffing the wind, one person after another was excited about what they felt was brewing politically in the country, and it was coming from a remarkable and unexpected source, the much maligned Labour Party.  In the dismal political scene most of the case rested on the fact that the party in recent years under leader, Jeremy Corbin, had become a mass-based party soaring in membership from 100,000 to 400,000 strong, and, perhaps even more shocking, many felt the leadership was listening to the membership and that might really mean something special could happen.  All of this is an amazing turnaround largely in the last year, particularly in Scotland, where the Scottish National Party, which had led the independence vote several years ago is still the dominant party, and threatens to have another go at it, if Brexit is allowed to come in soon.

Jon Black and Emma Sanders setting up the room

Much of the energy for Labour is coming from younger people, but as one activist argued to me, the fact that there was still some leadership from “old Labour” and its hard fights and clear positions as opposed to the “new Labour” of Tony Blair and others meant that there might be a melding of the two strains into a hybrid of rare strength.  The backstory over the last year came from the surprising strength of Labour in the elections, even though the Conservatives maintained the majority, Prime Minister Teresa May was crippled, even while she keeps hanging on.  Corbin had been universally derided by the establishment and the mainstream press but had navigated the election and his own part in it brilliantly and had been strengthened in his own leadership.  His background has been solidly to the left making his success even more startling.

Recently Labour had put out a call to hire ten community organizers, largely to work in swing districts to prepare for the next round of elections.  There was skepticism here that this was any more than window dressing for a GOTV effort when the time comes, but still the signs of change were positive.

Everyone was hedging their bets, but as one told me, having a “real” Labour Party means that the debate and chance for change on a number of fronts could open the country for more opportunity for peoples’ empowerment.