Speaking to a civic group in Cleveland on Wednesday, President Obama struck fear in the hearts of Republican gerrymanderers and vote suppressors when he announced that the best way to fight back against the corruptive influence of money on our political system is to require everybody to vote:
“If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country,” Obama said, calling it potentially transformative. Not only that, Obama said, but universal voting would “counteract money more than anything.” [Source]
The president has a ver good point; the biggest problem we have with elections in this country is our low voter turnout. It is especially a problem for the Democratic party. In 2014, it was reported that only 36.4 percent of registered voters cast a ballot — the lowest voter turnout since WWII. Requiring people to vote, like Brazil and Australia, will indeed change the political map — favoring Democrats. Democratic policies favor the middle and working class, which is why Republicans spend so much time and energy cheating, suppressing votes, and gerrymandering the electoral districts.
That’s because Republicans know that when voter turnout is high, they lose. We saw it in the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections. It is also a fact that the easier voting is, the more people vote. Take Colorado for example, in 2014 they had a significant increase in voter turnout that directly correlates to their new all-mail ballot and vote center system.
This is the reason Republicans pass laws to make voting harder; as Obama pointed out:
There’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls.
The Republican Party has done everything in its power to block people from voting — especially low-income, minority voters — and it has worked for them in the last two midterm elections. They have passed a number of Voter ID laws, cut the hours for early voting, and closed polling places. During the 2012 presidential elections, after Governor Rick Scott dramatically cut early voting days, people in Florida had to wait up to six hours to cast their ballot in some places. Is it any surprise the same people who had to wait hours didn’t return to the polls in 2014?
Obviously we need to pass an amendment to overturn Citizens United and reform campaign finance laws, that’s a no brainer; but more importantly we need to get out and vote. Republicans will continue to fight voting rights tooth and nail, they will try to stop us from voting, and mandatory voting can be a great tool to counteract their efforts.
This stresses the fact: If voting wasn’t important, do Republicans try so hard to keep people from doing it?
That is the point Pres. Obama is conveying, and he couldn’t be more right.
Here is his entire answer:
Now, here’s the problem. Citizens United was a Supreme Court ruling based on the First Amendment, so it can’t be overturned by statute. It could be overturned by a new Court, or it could be overturned by constitutional amendment. And those are extraordinarily challenging processes. So I think we have to think about what are other creative ways to reduce the influence of money, given that in the short term we not going to be able to overturn Citizens United.
And I think there are other ways for us to think creatively, and we’ve got to have a better debate about how we make this democracy and encourage participation — how we make our democracy better and encourage more participation.
For example, the process of political gerrymandering I think is damaging the Congress. I don’t think the insiders should draw the lines and decide who their voters are. And Democrats and Republicans do this, and it’s great for incumbents. But it means, over time, that people aren’t competing for the center because they know that if they win a Democratic primary or a Republican primary, they’ve won. So they just — it pushes parties away from compromise in the center.
I think that — now, I don’t think I’ve ever said this publicly, but I’m going to go ahead and say it now. We shouldn’t be making it harder to vote. We should be making it easier to vote.
In Australia, and some other countries, there’s mandatory voting. It would be transformative if everybody voted. That would counteract money more than anything. If everybody voted, then it would completely change the political map in this country, because the people who tend not to vote are young; they’re lower income; they’re skewed more heavily towards immigrant groups and minority groups; and they’re often the folks who are — they’re scratching and climbing to get into the middle class. And they’re working hard, and there’s a reason why some folks try to keep them away from the polls. We should want to get them into the polls. So that may end up being a better strategy in the short term.
Long term, I think it would be fun to have a constitutional amendment process about how our financial system works. (Applause.) But, realistically, given the requirements of that process that would be a long-term proposition.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.