For years, the Republican party has been waging a campaign to undermine the cornerstone of our democracy: our right to vote. They have closed voting precincts in minority neighborhoods, Republican governors have slashed early voting times in their states, members of the GOP in Congress gutted the Voting Rights Act, and they have passed unconstitutional voter ID laws among countless other underhanded attempts to disenfranchise voters. So it should come as no surprise that Republicans overwhelmingly oppose automatic voter registration laws. Fortunately for the people of California, Democrats in the state legislature have defeated the GOP’s attempts to block the state’s new automatic voter registration bill.
Last week, Democratic lawmakers in both houses passed a bill that would automatically register adult voters by using information obtained through the Department of Motor Vehicles. The bill, the California New Motor Voter Act, would make the state the second (Oregon was first) enact such a law. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla proposed the bill after the state experienced an incredibly low — 42 percent — voter-turnout during the last election. He said:
“One of the biggest barriers to citizen participation is the voter registration process. A new, enhanced California Motor Voter law would strengthen our democracy. It would be a game-changer.”
Seven million Californians are eligible to vote, but not registered. According to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Election Performance Index, the state was ranked 38th the nation for voter registration, but that will change as soon as Governor Jerry Brown signs the bill into law.
While Democrats in the state fought to making voter registration easier for citizens in the state, Republicans were unanimously opposed to the bill in the Senate. Senator Jeff Stone (R) claimed that it would “further undermine the integrity of our election system,” even though there is no proof that it would increase “voter fraud”; but he isn’t alone. Republicans nationwide oppose bills of this nature.
Earlier this year President Obama announced his support for automatically registering citizens to vote and the GOP panicked. In June, Hillary Clinton also announced her support for the laws, saying:
“I call on Republicans at all levels of government, with all manner of ambition to stop fear-mongering about a phantom epidemic of election fraud and start explaining why they are so scared of letting citizens have their say.”
The reason Republicans try so hard to keep voters — especially low-income, minority voters — away from the polls is because they can’t win when turnout is high. In 2014, the GOP took control of the Senate; unsurprisingly they did so when only 36 percent of registered voters showed up to vote — the lowest since WWII. Comparatively, in 2012 when Obama reclaimed the White House turnout was nearly 60 percent.
This is why the right does not want 7 million new voters in California and millions of others nationwide. They need to keep people away from the polls if they want to win and automatic voter registration will make that task much more difficult to achieve. Voting is a sacred right of every American; the GOP’s campaign to make voting more difficult is an affront to everything our nation stands for.
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.