Expanding the American Electoral Franchise

As Republicans make their best attempt to suppress voter turnout, it occurred to me that we can either cry about it or we can come up with better alternatives that would increase voter turnout and counteract the Republican voter suppression campaign.

A poll tax (the notion of charging someone money to vote) is unconstitutional in the United States. But the bureaucracy associated with voting is a kind of poll tax that imposes penalties of time and logistics rather than money. Here are some ideas that we should pursue in the next Congress that would expand the franchise and make American democracy more inclusive:

  • Keep the polls open for more than one day. This would benefit shift workers as well as people like small business owners who can’t easily take time off to vote on voting day.
  • Make election day a holiday. If there’s a problem with adding an extra holiday to the calendar (and I don’t think there is), then make one of the two election days a Saturday or vote on another existing holiday such as Veteran’s Day.
  • Make voting compulsory by recognizing that democracy is a duty, not just a right. Countries like Australia do this and their participation rate is 95% or more. The penalty for failing to vote should be modest (along the lines of a traffic ticket) but sufficient to ensure that everyone without a valid excuse turns out.
  • Same-day voter registration. If Republicans want to require a legal ID to vote, then fine. It should then be legal for anyone to vote on election day without having to register beforehand, simply by showing a legal ID at their polling place.
  • A modest tax rebate for voters. Staple your voter stub to your 1040 in April and knock $50 off the amount of tax you owe. This would also be a spectacular wedge issue for Democrats because this would place Republicans in opposition not only to democracy, but to a tax decrease for everyone.

None of these ideas are radical. Only the last idea is new. And none of the counter-arguments pertaining to cost or lost worker productivity can possibly hold water in a world in which we spend trillions of dollars to enforce democracy in countries like Iraq and Afghanistan.