Craig Newmark has a nice graphic illustrating the rapid changes in state voting laws since 2010, most of which make voting more restrictive. I’ve been thinking about this issue in various ways all week, meeting with key experts in DC on Monday, writing a short op-ed for the Tufts student paper, addressing the issue on a public panel today, and thinking about various forms of useful research we might do during this cycle.
We should worry about the effects of the new photo ID laws and other new restrictions. Perhaps most troubling to me is Florida’s requirement to be licensed before you can register voters; the state also threatens high fines if you don’t submit your lists on time. As a result, a lot of nonpartisan voting organizations are withdrawing from Florida. CIRCLE’s contribution will be some research on the effects of these new policies.
But we shouldn’t allow the new restrictions to occupy our whole attention, because the state laws already varied enormously before 2010. Some were friendly to voting. Election Day Registration is allowed in some dates and has been found to raise youth turnout by some 14 percentage points. Other rules were already very onerous, far more so than in other democracies. As I wrote in my op-ed, “our system is complicated, cumbersome, uneven and easy to tweak for partisan gain.”
It needs a fundamental overhaul, and we should be challenging basic assumptions. Why, in this day and age, should individuals have to register at all? (There are other ways to verify eligibility.) Why should partisan elected officials get to administer local elections? Why should the voting age be 18?