During last night’s Democratic forum in South Carolina, presidential candidate and populist champion Bernie Sanders called for immediate action to automatically register all voters, demanding substantial “legislation or maybe even a constitutional amendment that says that everybody in America who has 18 years of age or older is registered to vote, end of discussion.” He also took aim at Republicans, ripping them for their efforts to dismantle our political system: “It has never occurred to me as a candidate to figure out a way that I could deny the vote to people because they might vote against me. What the Republicans are doing is so un-American, it is so outrageous, that it is literally beyond belief. They are political cowards, and if they can’t face a free election, they should get another job.”
His words strike a chord among distraught progressives, who were handed a slew of defeats on Tuesday’s election day by Republicans, who relied on astonishingly low participation by the electorate and a focus on foolish issues like gun rights to draw out niche voters. Coming on the heels of Southern states passing universally condemned voter discrimination laws, it highlights the deep sickness that is killing our democracy.
It’s very likely that the majority of Americans had no idea that there was an election on Tuesday, who the candidates were, or what the issues at stake were. Many people cannot take time off of work to go vote; Republican efforts to force through restrictive ID laws, purge voter rolls, and refusal to invest in voting infrastructure all contribute to our depressingly low turnout. Our democracy desperately needs to raise electoral awareness, automatic voter registration and a national election holiday if it is going to survive. It is really quite bizarre that the right to vote is not enshrined in the Constitution – but if Bernie Sanders gets his way, that could all change very soon.
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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.