Hillary Clinton comes out swinging on voting rights, calling for universal automatic voter registration

“Today, Republicans are systematically and deliberately trying to stop millions of American citizens from voting. What part of democracy are they afraid of?”

Hillary Clinton came out swinging on voting rights yesterday.

In a speech at Texas Southern University that saw proposals going beyond what advisers had previously told the press were included, Clinton called for at least 20 days of nationwide early voting, reduced waiting times at the polls and — the kicker — universal automatic voter registration.

That’s a huge deal.

Automatic voter registration is probably one of the single biggest areas in which America can expand its franchise. Oregon added 300,000 voters to its rolls when it enacted the policy earlier this year, and a similar proposal in Illinois could give ballot access to over a million people. In 2012, 51 million Americans nationwide were not registered to vote, and an estimated 4 million attempted to register but were unable to due to voter registration deadlines.

What’s more, as Sean McElwee at Demos has pointed out frequently, the non-voting population is disproportionately comprised of lower-income and minority citizens who hold more liberal policy positions than their voting counterparts, and barriers to entry in the voting market are a major reason why they don’t register and vote. What’s more, non-voters across economic classes are more supportive of government redistribution than voters.

This is the first time in recent memory that the Democratic Party has a real platform on voting rights. While Clinton was refreshingly assertive in reiterating how racist, anti-democratic and flat-out wrongheaded Republicans’ concerted effort to legally rig elections has been, I’ve complained before that forward-looking alternatives have been absent from Democratic platforms. With her speech yesterday, Clinton made making it easier to vote — as opposed to just not making it harder to vote — a campaign issue. And I can’t wait for Scott Walker, Rick Perry, Jeb Bush and all of the other Republican candidates who got where they are today by using the “voter fraud” bogeyman to stoke the fears of their respective bases while keeping Democrats from the polls to explain why making voting more accessible for eligible citizens is a bad idea.

Of course, she might not have too much help from the press. If voting rights becomes a partisan debate in this election, the media will feel obligated to report on it as if there are two equal and opposite sides of the issue, a (seriously flawed) political balancing act was on full display yesterday:

Hillary Clinton, via Wikimedia Commons

Hillary Clinton, via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, automatic voter registration will benefit liberal candidates, if for no other reason than lower-income citizens with a vested interest in voting for liberal candidates have been systematically denied access to voting rights since our nation’s founding. Let’s not forget that registration itself derives its history from an attempt to keep low-income and, later, African-American citizens from voting. A more inclusive democracy may be better for Democrats, but that isn’t the point. The point is that it’s, well, a more inclusive democracy.

Once again, there is no good small-d democratic argument against automatic voter registration, and the only somewhat decent argument against the 20 days of early voting that Clinton also called for in her speech is that it might depress voter turnout (whether they’re Democrats or not). The United States remains one of the only industrialized democracies in the world that places the burden of voter registration on its citizens as opposed to the state. Republicans may oppose a number of really good ideas just because adopting them would mean admitting that a lot of other countries had them first (paid family leave, universal healthcare, even the metric system), but that doesn’t mean the ideas aren’t really good.

Yesterday, Hillary Clinton planted a very large flag on the side of voting rights, calling her Republican opponents out — by name — for actively working against the basic democratic principles that voting is a good thing, and that elections are more representative when more people show up.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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24 Responses to “Hillary Clinton comes out swinging on voting rights, calling for universal automatic voter registration”

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  3. 2karmanot says:

    Not to mention dictatorship of the Kardashians! :-)

  4. mirth says:

    Hi backatcha, Friend :)

  5. 2karmanot says:

    Hi Mirth :-)

  6. Indigo says:

    Maybe so. I’ve often said that things are not bad enough for the public to take hold and actually change things. Napoleon, however, did not topple a repressive monarchy, he found a way to use the political disruptions and chaos that followed the Revolution. Sometimes, it’s after the Revolution that dictators find a way to seize power.

  7. Indigo says:

    See? I told you she can make the police state work. It’s about time somebody does. I mean, it’s not as if we’re not an evolving police state, is it?

  8. BeccaM says:

    I won’t pounce on you. I happen to think you’re right.

  9. FLL says:

    I’ll probably get pounced on for this, but I don’t think it’s lack of plutocratic powers that is the prerequisite for a Marxist dictatorship of the proletariat. Czarist Russia and Mandarin-dynasty China were certainly plutocratic, and yet Marxism took root (but failed toward the end of the twentieth century). So what’s the common prerequisite for a Marxist dictatorship? I think the prerequisite is any type of absolutist government (usually absolutist hereditary monarchy, as in the case of Russia and China). If that has been in place for centuries, the oppressed, illiterate peasant masses who have no experience of “civil rights” or “constitutional rights” will easily accept some other type of dictatorship, in this case Marxist. Now try to impose that kind of Marxist dictatorship on a nation (e.g., France or the U.S.) with a long history of individualism and civil/constitutional rights. LOL =
    l-a-u-g-h-i-n-g___o-u-t___l-o-u-d. Do you think I’m on to something?

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    Unlike those who believe the system is capable of correction, socialists put zero faith in Democrats and Republicans and orient our work to pushing for union organization, an end to the wars of the rich and fighting for a decent standard of living.

    In 1917 those translated as “Peace, Land, Bread” and were the engines of real change – revolutionary change. We’ve beaten the plutocrats before and we will again, on a global scale, because the conditions for a struggle to end the death agony of capitalism are ripening.

  11. BeccaM says:

    Yeah, well, I can’t quite bring myself to live in your version of the world where all is hopeless until the bloody socialist revolution comes — which it never will, because the Plutocratic Powers That Be have a total lock on the entire government. It’s too bleak and pointless. Honestly, I don’t know how you maintain your particular state of mind without feeling a constant urge to jump off the nearest bridge.

  12. Bill_Perdue says:

    “don’t just promise these progressive populist ideals. Deliver on them…”

    Not. Gonna. Happen. Period. Full Stop.

    Democrats are not even the party of reform, they’re just one of two reactionary parties. You expectation that they’ll drop their campaign rhetoric once elected is correct.

    Here’s Obama making promises about ending the Bush/Clinton wars, the public option and union busting.

    public option – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=acc6Wn_BWlk

    union busting – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SA9KC8SMu3o

    end the war – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8VlXfs1K04g

    Obama is now engaged in 10 wars of aggression from Libya to Pakistan.

    Obama took millions in bribes and abandoned the public option.

    Obama has become one of the leading union busters in presidential history.

    Whoever the Democrats or Republicans nominate will have the same perspective.

  13. Bill_Perdue says:

    1) This is not a democracy. It’s a plutocracy. “A new scientific study from Princeton researcher Martin Gilens and Northwestern researcher Benjamin I. Page has finally put some science behind the recently popular argument that the United States isn’t a democracy any more. And they’ve found that in fact, America is basically an oligarchy. …s Gilens and Page write, ‘the preferences of the average American appear to have only a minuscule, near-zero, statistically non-significant impact upon public policy.’ In other words, their statistics say your opinion literally does not matter.” http://www.truthdig.com/eartotheground/item/new_study_finds_the_us_is_not_a_democracy_so_what_is_it_20140417

    2) What influences the Supremes most is popular pressure from inside and outside the US. The recent vote in Ireland will hopefully have a profound effect hBrown v. Board of Education of Topeka, 347 U.S. 483 (1954) was the product of steady pressure by the black community and by leftists abroad who depicted the US as a racist backwater. (60 years later, that still true, the US is a racist backwater, as bad as the zionist colony in Palestine and the neo-colonialist regime in South Africa.) Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. (1973) and Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558 (2003) were likewise influenced by domestic and foreign politics, not by the party affiliation of the Supremes, who are, after all, just robed politicians.

    The pro-marriage decisions by the state Supremes in Massachusetts and California were rendered by Republican judges. It’s the level of pressure, not the party affliction, of judges that determines their decisions.

  14. Bill_Perdue says:

    Hedges has a similar perspective.

    “We Are In a Revolutionary Moment”: Chris Hedges Explains Why An Uprising Is Coming — And Soon” http://www.alternet.org/we-are-revolutionary-moment-chris-hedges-explains-why-uprising-coming-and-soon

  15. Its about time. This issue needs to be put forefront. It needs to be made clear that Republicans are undermining our democracy for their own benefit. I’d add that making the SCOTUS an issue as well. Its likely one ore more justices will retire and having a republican appoint them will mean a further erosion of voting rights, gay rights women’s rights you name it.

  16. mirth says:

    ^5 2karmanot. One of the best among your always great comments. Truth is a beautiful thing. You speak for me; with devastatingly-hard lessons learned from Obama I will never again trust much less vote for any Democrat now in power or on the periphery or the horizon of it.

    The thing is: manymanymany Democrats now disgusted by their party feel just as I do. Until a political party represents us and our interests over corporate control of our country and our lives, we opt out.
    Here’s the other thing: manymanymany Republicans now disgusted with their party are also fed up. Whether they also opt out to force change within their party or to work for one that represents them remains to be seen.

  17. BeccaM says:

    I think it’s a good move, and I’ve been both tired and dismayed how until this, in recent years the Dems seem to play nothing but defense on voting rights.

    It’s the same deal with Social Security and Medicare: Stop talking about ‘protecting’ them from cuts. Go on the offensive. Argue for expansion. Mention how if we were to lower the retirement age to what it used to be — or lower — it would free up lots of jobs for younger folks and enable older folks to enjoy a longer retirement. (Or any retirement at all.)

    Then, even more importantly, don’t just promise these progressive populist ideals. Deliver on them after being elected, or at the very least make a sincere and vigorous effort to make them happen.

    I’ll admit though, I’m even more tired of Dems who talk a good game, then drop it all the second their asses hit their elected office chairs…

  18. Bill_Perdue says:

    This is just campaign rhetoric. Neither party or their candidates are interested in democracy in the least. Their core goal is to preserve and expand the wealth of the rich and their unchallenged use of their wealth to buy and sell politicians and control the US.

    If HRH HRC is the Democrat candidate she’ll be one of two candidates the rich will promote as a lesser evil. The Republican party apparatus will supply the other.

    This election cycle it’s a tossup as who the those voters still interested in voting will choose as a lesser evil. What is clear is that more and more people will be abandoning the Democrats and the Republicans for the left. That’s a good thing.

  19. 2karmanot says:

    First, well done Jon! Your article points out how far down the drain this old Republic’s democracy has gone, when even the basic right to vote is an issue for discussion. ” If voting rights is an issue in the election, the media will feel
    obligated to report on it as if there are two equal and opposite sides
    of the issue,” Bearing that in mind I’m sure FOX NEWS with a straight face will suggest a 3/5 solution for minority voters. Unfortunately for Hills, Obama has destroyed the Democratic brand for generations to come. People will vote for for the party simply because it is not Republican. Obama polished the turd until it shined like chocolate diamonds and failed utterly to revive the Party and its core values with his incompetence and wishy washi white wash of his true beliefs: the absolute rule of Wall Street, Big Bank and the Military Industrial Complex. Hillary’s tap dance don’t break and once she’s President it will be the same old same old Wall Street Oligarchy.

  20. 2karmanot says:


  21. toto says:

    And while we’re at it . . .
    Presidential elections don’t have to continue to be dominated by and determined by a handful of swing states, while most of the country is politically irrelevant.

    The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in the country.

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in every presidential election.

    No more distorting and divisive red and blue state maps of pre-determined outcomes.
    There would no longer be a handful of battleground states where voters and policies are more important than those of the voters in 80%+ of the states that have just been ‘spectators’ and ignored after the conventions.

    The bill would take effect when enacted by states with a majority of Electoral College votes—that is, enough to elect a President (270 of 538).

    The candidate receiving the most popular votes from all 50 states (and DC) would get all the 270+ electoral votes of the enacting states, and win.

    The bill has passed 33 state legislative chambers in 22 rural, small, medium, large, red, blue, and purple states with 250 electoral votes, and been enacted by 11 jurisdictions with 165 electoral
    votes – 61% of the 270 necessary to go into effect.


  22. FLL says:

    …universal automatic voter registration.

    That is the real deal. Universal voter registration would bring us into the same club with other modern democracies, like the ones in Western Europe. This is a grand idea, and it doesn’t come a moment too soon. Concerning fair, modern voting reform, I actually think it’s you, Jon, that have “come out swinging.” Good journalism, which is all the world is asking of Internet blogs.

  23. FLL says:

    I’m sure you’re right about the GOP. Their well documented efforts at voter suppression, especially in the black precincts of swing states like Ohio, are legendary. I would actually be surprised, however, if Bernie Sanders and his supporters were inclined to jump into all that voter-suppression ugliness. I don’t think the Sanders campaign will do that, but I guess it’s always a good idea to watch the behavior of every campaign closely. No one gets a free pass. You can tell from my blog history (which is not locked as “private,” by the way) that I’m not any particular Hillary fan. I think Sanders has genuinely positive contributions to make in this campaign.

  24. cleos_mom says:

    So now the GOP and its staunch allies in the Sanders camp are going to regard voter suppression as one of America’s fondest traditions. There might be no valid argument against automatic voter registration but if “Hillary” is for it, you can bet your assets both those groups will be against it.

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