Universal Registration

Community Organizing Ideas and Issues

Universal Registration
November 7, 2008
            New Orleans               With the election almost over (races in Minnesota and some other places still linger and runoffs await), it is safe to say the people are clear about some things and one of them is that they would prefer more democracy thank you, rather than less.  States that actually made an effort to make the very act of voting less of a burden, like taking bad medicine, and encouraged early voting found citizens hopped happily into the lines, and the lines were less both then and later.
            Ian Urbina of the New York Times quoted Rosemary E. Rodriguez, the chair of the Federal Election Assistance Commission, calling for states to be required to “adopt” early voting.  More significantly, she said, “The single most important thing that Congress can do right now is create universal voter registration, which would mean that all eligible voters are automatically registered….”  Now, that’s what I’m talking about!
            Now, I’m not going to quibble about whether or not such action would be the most important thing Congress could do or just in the top 5 or top 10.  That’s not the point, but expanding the practice of democracy is exactly the point, and if we seized the time now to do so, then we can almost a better future at least for all of us who are more comfortable in believing that a fuller exercise of the franchise would actually compel policies that are more broadly based to benefit the total population rather than specific elites or special interests.
            Urbina tracked down Professor Lorraine Minnite from Barnard who did not mince her words in pointing out the where the obstacles to getting this fixed really lie, placing the blame right at the Republican doorstep:  “But the bigger reason that Republicans have resisted expanding the franchise is that the new people who are likely to come into the electorate are more often of lower income and are people of color, who tend to vote Democratic.”  We need go get past this and live up to our ideals.  Yes, universal suffrage and participation may make it possible for the Workers Party to win in Brazil, but it also didn’t stop a Bush-clone like Prime Minister Howard from running Australia virtually into the ground.  You stand before the voters, and you take your chances.  There are no sure things in politics, as we all know.
            As I argued recently in these pages and in the op-ed piece for McClatchy-Tribune, for those who so strenuously object to third party registration efforts, both partisan and non-partisan, and the inevitable fact that there are always going to be some problems in any such enterprise, universal registration implemented either by the states or the feds, gets around that objection.  For all of the pillorying of ACORN, someone has to step up and get the job done, and ACORN has tried to fill that space for decades long before all of this Republican generated controversy.
            This is the opportunity to combine the left and right and get this job done and the problem fixed.  It really does come down now to Congress and its members finally either stepping up or shutting up, because without real action, this is going to be a mess will be able to almost predict like clockwork every two years.
            President-elect Obama knows how hard it is to register new voters and lower income and minority voters.  He did that for Project Vote in Chicago before.  He knows that there needs to be a solution here, and he spoke to exactly that fact during the election. 
            Congress needs to bring him that bill early.