Little Rock Visiting with friends and comrades in Little Rock, it wasn’t long before the discussion went to the obvious: how could there be meaningful civic engagement of low-and-moderate income families in the 2012 elections without a huge voter registration effort among the poor?
There are still open wounds from too many sources that focus on the huge, massive and vicious attack on ACORN’s efforts in the 2008 election. Two and a half years later it’s finally clear that what the right and the Republicans mainly stirred up about these efforts was just sound and fury signifying nothing. On the blogs there’s a bunch of whooping and hollering about something in Vegas, but that seems to have been more of a “throw in the towel” and get it over after the powers that were pulled the plug on ACORN itself and declared bankruptcy on Election Day 2010. What do I know?
What I do know is that the lack of independent, large scale voter registration efforts among low-and-moderate income in battleground states critically impacted the 2010 election. In various reports the falloff of registration efforts compared cycle-to-cycle meant there were 100,000 to 300,000 less voters in places like Ohio, Missouri, Florida and elsewhere. You tell me that all of these “lost” votes didn’t make a difference in the Congressional and Senate swings in 2010? Furthermore, you tell me that the 2012 loss of the million or so new and corrected registration forms from ACORN in 2008 will not also impact the likely devastation of the coming Congressional races.
Obama is on his own now. He drives his own truck for his re-election. People who hope that Organizing for America, the DNC, or the Obama campaign itself are going to be able to carry all of the weight for voter registration are either dreaming or on good drugs. Obama’s job #1 is his re-election, not civic engagement and participation for goodness sakes. OFA is his arm. The joint fundraising between the campaign and the DNC and his people running the DNC means that the priorities are clear, they are on the same page, and speaking with one voice, but that does NOT translate into a massive voter registration effort among low-and-moderate income families.
I remember ACORN’s debate at the board level in 2007 about whether or not to take the hits involved in voter registration drives. There is no way to run a perfect registration program. There will be errors of omission or commission when real people are dealing with millions of pieces of paper. Furthermore, state laws require that all those pieces of paper once they have a signature on them must be submitted to the authorities. I guarantee you that will always mean that some wit or practical joker out there will have a hearty laugh and some right winger will go apoplectic about Mickey Mouse, but they simply need to get over it, and we clearly need to figure out a way to get people registered.
Given the inevitable attack from the right, most organizations, unions, and others are chary about thinking about voter registration, but that doesn’t mean that the job doesn’t need to be done, done well, and done big time! I had a friend who was a long-time political consultant. He told me once that after every election cycle, he used take a hammer to his computer, drive it out, and take it to the dump. In the “take no prisoners” “dog eat dog” world of modern politics, the same lesson should be applied to voter registration: create an organizational formation that is designed specifically to register voters for this cycle and then go out of business after the election; make the formation a “stand alone” vehicle sprung to life by a collaborative of like minded people and organizations committed to the civic participation and democratic practice of American citizens regardless of income and race so that no one organization or individual would have to take the abuse of the conservative assault; and, then add water and stir every two years.
Why not? It has to happen!