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!

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Mind the Base

New Orleans   Something smells fishy to me. When George W. Bush’s former strategist, Karl Rove, as well an author on “Truthout” are both saying that the Democrats are wasting time and money in Georgia, I get suspicious. Rove’s advice is go Big Sky, spend your time and money in a statewide Congressional race in Montana, because in his words, “they vote for Democrats there.” Meanwhile despite a better than 48% showing in the first primary for the Democratic candidate, Ossoff, in Georgia, pundits are arguing this is just a hole where you pour money and Democrats have no chance to win, no matter how much they spend. What’s the skinny here?

Reading between the lines, sure, Georgia is an uphill fight. Democrats haven’t won in 40 years since the time of Jimmy Carter. The leading Republican candidate is a former Georgia Secretary of State who hardly polled 20% in the first round. Rove and the traditional bettors are believing, with good cause I’m sure, that at the end of the day the losing Republican candidates will coalesce around her despite her record as a poor fundraiser and someone who has lost one race after another recently.

On the other hand, the Democratic base in reaction to the Trump presidency sees every election as a plebiscite on Trump and his poor performance and reportedly is demanding that all races be contested and that the party once again put on its big boy pants and contend nationally rather than just in the blues. If you are going to build a party, how can you ignore the base, win, lose or draw? Isn’t that a lesson that Hillary Clinton just taught us all in a way we should never forget? We have to always privilege the base!

Furthermore, the notion of a money drain being advanced by Rove seems gratuitous and self-serving. Talking to a newly minted party activist several weeks ago, he described a growing coalition that was mobilizing in Georgia which had not been fighting in the lists previously. He described the amalgamation as having 100 million Twitter followers from Hollywood to Silicon Valley and back to the East Coast. His argument was that this was new money. It was money being activated to respond to the challenge of the moment.

The same activist would argue that the race in Montana is also important. He and some of his co-conspirators believed that the lightly populated Western states from Alaska to Wyoming should be front and center on any plan to turn the country around. He stood up straight when he realized I was born in Wyoming and detailed a plan a multi-year plan to repopulate the state. He felt that if 20,000 or so people, young and more progressive, could be convinced to move to Wyoming it would fall into the blue state column like Humpty-Dumpty coming off the wall.

Ok, maybe that seems a bit like taking people to live on Mars or the moon, but when the base has gone active and wants to fight, organizers need to run as fast as they can to catch up and feed the fire. New money and new support comes in and as even Rove argues, no one has a clue in either party yet about what it might take to win in the midterms in 2018. These early skirmishes might just provide the battle plan for those contests, but only if we mind the base.

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