Maine and Mississippi vote today (Nov 8) on ballot propositions that will determine what hoops the states will require their citizens to jump through in order to do their civic duty on election day. The Christian Science Monitor explains the basics here:
Democrats allege that Republicans are setting stricter voting regulations in order to make it harder for traditionally Democratic constituencies – such as the poor and immigrants – to vote. In line with this, Maine is considering allowing voters to register on the same day as an election – something GOP legislators in Maine had banned.
Meanwhile, Republicans suggest that Democrats benefit disproportionately from voter fraud and that states must take more steps to ensure that voters are who they say they are. Accordingly, Mississippi is considering whether to require photo ID at the polling locations.
So a reasonable citizen might say, "I don't think fraud in elections is a good idea. We should take care to make sure elections have integrity." And they might consider, for instance, instituting more rigorous ID requirements at the polls as part of that. But here's the rub:
there's not a lot of evidence that voter fraud is actually a significant problem, whereas there is a lot of data to suggest that rigid requirements to present IDs disproporationately affects seniors, students, communities of color and immigrants. Moreover, the trends in voter participation over the last few decades generally suck -- with some notable exceptions, more and more people who are qualified to vote are simply not.
We all could have a field day listing the reasons why that might be so -- go for it in the comments if you feel like it -- but here's my bottom line on these Maine and Mississippi votes: encourage democratic participation - good; discourage participation - bad. Participation isn't the only issue for making elections work better (another obsession of mine has to do with what happens when media cut back on reporting at the same time the airways are flooded with "independent expenditure" attack ads -- what do we voters really know?), but you can't get to democracy without it.
Let's all encourage our sisters and brothers in Mississippi and Maine to vote for broad-based, participation-rich democracy today!