New Haven Register (New Haven, CT) - - LOCAL NEWS - John Stoehr is a fel­low at the Yale Jour­nal­ism Ini­tia­tive and a New Haven res­i­dent.

Jus­tice So­nia So­tomayor, in her dis­sent, said that Ohio’s purge law is part of “con­certed state ef­forts to pre­vent mi­nori­ties from vot­ing and to un­der­mine the ef­fi­cacy of their votes” that were “an un­for­tu­nate fea­ture of our coun­try’s his­tory.”

There’s a lot to say about the le­gal rea­son­ing, but I’ll leave that to schol­ars. For my part, I’d like to con­cen­trate on what can be done po­lit­i­cally to com­bat an agenda that ex­plic­itly seeks to shrink, rather than ex­pand, the Amer­i­can fran­chise.

Bear in mind that vot­ing and reg­is­ter­ing to vote are two things. Con­fus­ing them is un­der­stand­able. Our laws, habits and tra­di­tions tend to blur them. But they are dif­fer­ent. You could ar­gue that the high court’s rul­ing Mon­day is more about a state’s right to man­age voter reg­is­tra­tion, less about the right to vote.

To be sure, you must regis­ter to vote. But this is not a con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ment. Reg­is­tra­tion is what states have de­cided to do for rea­sons good and bad (I pre­sume). My point is that voter reg­is­tra­tion is the mech­a­nism by which states reg­u­late the right to vote. That mech­a­nism isn’t set in stone. It’s part of the larger prob­lem, which is that most peo­ple most of the time do not vote.

An idea to in­crease voter turnout is called au­to­matic reg­is­tra­tion. That’s when the state reg­is­ters you by de­fault, but al­lows you to opt out. Such re­form might turn out a few more vot­ers, but, reg­is­tra­tion is a poor in­di­ca­tor of whether peo­ple vote. Hard as it is to say about the Amer­i­can peo­ple, it’s sim­ply eas­ier not to vote. Hence, the rea­son for our his­tor­i­cally abysmal turnout. The high­est re­cent turnout was 2012 —about 58 per­cent. Some 235,248,000 peo­ple are of vot­ing age in the U.S.

Vot­ing by mail is an­other idea. So is Elec­tion Day on the week­end. Both would get around trans­porta­tion, long lines, work sched­ules and other ob­sta­cles. But I think we can re­duce bar­ri­ers to zero and still see scan­dalous turnout, be­cause — again, sad to say — the U.S. does not have a ro­bust cul­ture of civic re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Pres­i­dent Barack Obama was right. Manda­tory vot­ing is the fu­ture.

So in light of this garbage rul­ing from the U.S. Supreme Court that clearly in­hibits vot­ing, now’s a good time for lib­er­als and small-d democrats to de­bate the mer­its of manda­tory vot­ing: laws re­quir­ing vot­ing-age cit­i­zens to vote, or pay a fine.

Now, manda­tory vot­ing is slightly mis­named. No one

can prove you voted, be­cause of se­cret bal­lot­ing. The “manda­tory” part means merely that you are re­quired to show up at a polling place. That might sound like the mak­ings of an ar­gu­ment against manda­tory vot­ing, but it isn’t. The fact that you showed up means you are highly likely to vote. That’s why it works in places like Aus­tralia and Greece.

The last time manda­tory vot­ing got any attention at all was in 2015 when Obama mentioned it off­hand. “If ev­ery­body voted, then it would com­pletely change the political map in this coun­try,” he said. “It would be trans­for­ma­tive if ev­ery­body voted. That would coun­ter­act money more

than any­thing.”


Those who don’t vote tend to be young, poor, or marginal­ized. “They’re of­ten the folks who are scratch­ing and climb­ing to get into the mid­dle class. … There’s a rea­son why some folks try to keep them away from the polls. We should want to get them into the polls. So that may end up be­ing a bet­ter strat­egy in the short term.”

The “we” here is lib­er­als and small-d democrats.

The “short term” is now. Think less about reg­is­tra­tion, more about ex­pand­ing the Amer­i­can fran­chise.

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