Why environmentalists should love universal voter registration
Election season is upon us! This year has been distinguished by the sheer number of crackpots running for office, as well as the number of people with yachts trying to ‘self-finance a campaign’ or ‘purchase’ a political post.
One of the few upsides of races so far has been skepticism of political candidates who were failed CEOs, which has been surprising in the era of golden parachutes and consequence-free decisions by executives.
Turns out that if you want to run government like a business, people don’t want government’s value to tank like the stock price of HP, which lost 60% of its value under senatorial candidate Carly Fiorina’s watch.
A major downside has been the rise of the climate skeptics running for the Senate. With Sen. Lisa Murkowski – AK, possibly losing in a primary to a Tea Party Candidate who thinks climate change is caused by sunspots, climate advocates have their work cut out for them. So, what is one of the leading responses by civil society? Voter Registration.
Yes, voter registration is one of the tools of choice that civil society, particularly 501c3 groups, turn to have an impact on the election. The Energy Action Coalition is gearing up for Power Vote again, the Sierra Club is registering voters, Rock the Vote is back with some terrific software to make it easy to register to vote online.
This is great, right? They are getting volunteers and staff out on the street registering people to vote, talking to people about the issues they care about and empowering people to make a difference. It makes sense that environmental advocates would want to register people to vote. Brian Siebel, for the Huffington Post, wrote “Student and Youth Voters Face Higher Hurdles Than Others to Register and Vote in 2010“. Other disenfranchised groups are urban and minority communities and poor rural communities. These groups are the backbone of many environmental fights, whether against mountaintop removal, urban coal plants, or fighting for clean energy on campuses.
However, the fact that civil society is registering people to vote is a legacy of the troubled history of US democracy. Voter registration has been a hard-fought battle in the United States and any expansion of voter registration was fought tooth, nail, and claw by politicians trying to maintain Jim Crow laws in the South.
The fact that a history of racism has led to young and dis-empowered voters to face hurdles at the voting booth should be a spur to modernize our nation’s voting laws, replacing a patchwork of laws that made our elections in 2000 and 2004 the world’s laughingstock with universal voter registration.
Universal voter registration would simply move the burden of voter registration from underfunded civil society groups onto government, alongside the other fundamental requirements of citizenship, like selective service. If we have passed a law to make health insurance mandatory, it is staggering that we don’t have universal voter registration.
Making election day a national holiday would also help working class people get to the polls, so that they don’t have to skip work or miss a shift in a recession to vote.
Normally, when progressive organizations look for a tool to level the playing field with corporations they look to campaign finance reform.
However, with the Supreme Court equating money with free speech, perhaps it is time to look to the ballot box and let those hard-earned dollars go towards convincing people that perhaps Senate candidates who think global warming is caused by sunspots or ‘natural cycles’ aren’t worth voting for at all.