IS AUTOMATIC VOTER REGISTRATION A REFORM OR A STEP BACK ?

AVR Briefing

^ do you support this ? Not so sure. Read our argument why not.

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On my 21st birthday I registered to vote. The City Clerk personally swore me in, because he and my Dad were friends, and our city was small enough that that personal connection could be honored. Why did I register ? I did it because my Dad insisted. I guess that i also felt a bit of pride, that I was now an adult and confident to do my duty.

That was a long time ago. Much has changed since. Electeds in many states, who call themselves Republicans but in fact violate the Republican party’s founding missions, have engaged in all sorts of skull-duggery. to “depress” the vote. They have taken voters off the list for small administrative quirks; required people to show certain kinds of state ID’s that they may not have, or may not be able to travel long distances to acquire; refused to restore voting rights to convicts who have done their time; moved polling places so that unfavored vo9ters have a hard time getting to them. And many more such moves to deny citizens their most basic civil right, the right to vote.

Misdeeds of this sort disgust most of us, and should. Registering to vote should be straight-0forward and unburdened with detours. Polling places should be centrally located within a precinct. Ballots should be easy to use and probably paper, so that they can’t be hacked by malfeasors or foreign governments. Moves to intimidate voters as they arrive to vote, such as those perpetrated by a right wing group known as “True the Vote,” must be dealt with severely. I think most of us agree with all of these assertions.

What, then, ought we to decide about a new proposal, whose purpose is to assure that every eligible person is registered as a voter ? I refer to ‘automatic voter registration.” It goes thus in Massachusetts : when a person comes to the Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) to obtain or renew a license or register a vehicle, he or she can register then and there: but she has to ask. Under Automatic Voter Registration, the person signing in at the RMV window is registered by signing in; she may OPT OUT of registering, but otherwise is registered.

My own view is that registration that requires no act at all by the registrant weakens the vote. I strongly believe that a person must make a positive, conscious decision to register, just as she must make a deliberate decision to go and vote. I see our system as participatory: but it is participatory by effort. Though obstacles should never block a person’s decision to participate, the presence of decision seems to me vital. We can allow voting by mail, or even voting online, and either of these reforms — used by many states already — requires the voter to do stuff — to take action. It certainly isn’t heavy lifting, nothing that the legendary John Henry would have to die with his hammer in hand for, but actions they are. Automatic  voter registration is the absence of action. The person does nothing; it is done To him. To me, that is not participation. It is not a deliberate resolve to get involved. And involvement is what a healthy democracy requires.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

 

 

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