New Orleans There’s a new virus spreading. This time it’s not Ebola or something from the Middle East or Africa, but the pernicious attacks on democracy through voter suppression now leaping from the United States to United Kingdom.
Not surprisingly, it starts easily enough with some seemingly small tweaks in voter registration. In the United Kingdom the government pushed through an Individual Electoral Registration Scheme, as they called it. Simply put, the old registration system meant that one person from any household registered everyone in the household: one and done! The new system means that every qualified individual in a household has to individually register in order to be able to vote. The first test comes in six months or so in the May 7, 2015 national and parliamentary elections.
Compared to the United States voting has been relatively robust with 60% voting in the 2010 general election in the UK, although that still means that 6 million voters were left by the wayside. Younger and usually more alienated voters between 18 and 24 years old not surprisingly are well represented in the missing voters column since statistics indicate that less than half are registered and less than half of the registered actually turnout to vote.
Invariably any new registration system, as the United States proves resoundingly during every election cycle, puts a disproportionate burden on minorities, the elderly, the young, and lower income voters once something semi-automatic is replaced by a new system requiring some motivation and effort. In what is now called “choice architecture,” creating hurdles and creating choices without incentives or motivations produces predictably poor results.
There are now various catchy campaigns to try and reverse the tide. One is called “No Vote, No Voice,” sponsored by the Daily Mirror newspaper, Unite, the UK’s largest union, and others. Another striving to be hipper is called “Bite the Ballot,” but let’s not go there.
Additional roadblocks to registration include banning third-party registration, where ACORN and Project Vote excelled, which allowed an individual or organization to submit a validly completed registration form qualifying a voter for the election and easing the process. Of course if there was interest, this problem is likely solvable with wirelessly activated iPad type mobile computers or even smartphones that would allow individuals to register on-line which is legally permissible throughout the United Kingdom and tied to each person’s national insurance number so highly individualized.
ACORN organizers in the United Kingdom took a quick look at the elections returns in the past election and 72 seats were determined by 5% or less of the votes. Either restricting or increasing voter registration, particularly since first time registrants always vote in high numbers at their first opportunity, and increasing get-out-the-vote field programs could shift political alignments from the top to the bottom.
Surely, this was not a unique insight, which may explain the suppression efforts themselves.