Access to the ballot box: the politics of voter registration

 

Access to the ballot box: the politics of voter registration

Should it be easier or harder to vote? That’s the question on which the future direction of American politics now hangs, In a bid to tilt the playing field in their favour, the Republicans are trying to make voting more difficult. In the past year, GOP lawmakers have introduced some 165 proposals in 33 states restricting citizens’ access to the ballot box, supposedly in the name of protecting voting integrity. These bills curtail early and absentee voting, impose stricter voter identification requirements and add new hurdles to the voter registration process. The Democrats, meanwhile, are trying to push things the other way with a piece of federal legislation called H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, which, among other things, mandates unlimited absentee voting, restores voting rights to ex-felons, and bans gerrymandering – manipulation of voting district boundaries – and so-called dark money campaign funding. Whether or not this bill passes will have “enormous consequences for the future balance of power between the parties”. It could shape American politics “more than anything else the Democrats do in the next two years”.

The Democrats’ bill isn’t about defending democracy,  it’s about “cementing Democratic political power”. The legislation is designed to “auto-enrol likely Democratic voters”, such as food-stamp recipients, while enshrining in law fraud-susceptible practices such as instant voter registration and ballot harvesting (where people fill out an absentee ballot and entrust it to someone else to drop off). It will also make it harder for Republican candidates to raise money, Banning anonymous political donations may sound neutral, but the Left routinely shames, ostracises and organises boycotts of Republican donors. H.R. 1 might be better named the “For the People Who Are Not Conservatives Act”.

Both parties assume that making it easier to vote favours the Democrats,  But that’s “hardly certain”. Although the massive turnout in 2020 no doubt helped Joe Biden, the predicted “Blue Wave” didn’t materialise: Republicans flipped 15 House seats and won big in state elections. The Republicans need to start thinking long-term,If they double down on restricting voting rights, they might sustain the power of their “shrinking constituency” for a few more years. But to stay competitive, the GOP needs to nominate moderates who can win elections without voter suppression, outrageous gerrymandering and other anti-democratic dark arts. By forcing the Republicans to evolve sooner rather than later, H.R. 1 may be “the long-term rescue package they desperately need”.

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