Fight Back with Voting and Election Reform


Progressives and moderates awoke the morning after Election Day in shock and anger which has only grown with moves by the Trump administration and the Republican majorities to try to roll back the progress made over the last 100 years. Many are looking for ways to fight back.

For the second time in less than 20 years the winner of the popular vote nationally has been prevented from taking the oath of office as President by the quirky Electoral College. In 2000, Al Gore won the popular vote by 500,000 votes. Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by nearly three million votes. The results of the Electoral College, acting in opposition to the will of the people, were disastrous, George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Polls over the decades consistently have shown that the American people favor replacing the antiquated institution, with roots in the compromise over slavery, with the popular vote. However abolishing the Electoral College, which would require a constitutional amendment in today’s world in which reactionary forces control both houses of Congress and most of the states, is impossible.

There is however a method to reform the Electoral College. States have the authority to require their electors to act in certain ways. Many states but not all require their electors to vote for the popular vote winner in their state. There were rogue electors on both sides in 2016, the most dangerous to democratic popular rule were the four Democratic electors in Washington state who although their state voted overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton cast their votes for Republican Collin Powell and one other individual. The national Popular Vote Interstate Compact, passed by 11 states and the District of Columbia with 165 electoral votes, if passed by states equaling 270 electoral votes, would require that the members of the Electoral College cast their votes for the candidate who received the most popular votes nationwide. The states that have passed it as of 2017 are: New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, California, Washington, Vermont, Maryland, Hawaii, Illinois and Massachusetts plus D.C.

The Koch Brothers and other billionaires from oil and hedge fund fortunes have been funding the Republican dominance of state governments, resulting in voter suppression laws aimed at cutting down registration and voting access for African-Americans, Latinos in some states, college students, the elderly and physically challenged, those low income of any race or ethnicity who don’t drive, and big city dwellers who depend on family or public transportation.

One way to fight back is through passage of Automatic Voter Registration, as Oregon, California, Connecticut, Vermont, West Virginia and the District of Columbia already have done. Republican governors in Illinois and Nevada vetoed Automatic Voter Registration bills passed by Democratic legislatures.

Over 125,000 citizens in Nevada then signed petitions to put it on the ballot in 2018. Illinois’ legislation is the Steller model of Automatic Voter Registration in that it covers social service agencies as well as driver’s license facilities. Automatic Voter Registration not only boosts voter turnout but saves millions of tax dollars over the years, the amount depending on the size of the state.

Elections by mail, pioneered by Oregon decades ago, boosts voter turnout immensely and saves millions of tax dollars every election cycle. Oregon, Washington state and Colorado conduct all their elections by mail.

Election Day Registration doesn’t save tax money like Automatic Voter Registration and elections by mail but it does open the doors of voting to those who decide late to vote, whose birthdays came after the voting registration deadline passes. It helps those who move after the registration deadline is past and those juggling kids, work and/or school as well as long hours of work. It benefits those commuting long distances to work or school and thereby find it difficult to register to vote within the hours that the election authority offices are open. Election Day Registration is available in 11 states plus the District of Columbia: Maine, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Illinois, Iowa, Iowa, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

The most difficult reform to get enacted is restoring the right to vote to those who have served their sentences for having broken the law. In Iowa then-Gov. Tom Vilsack (D) used his executive order power to restore the right to vote of those felons who had completed their sentences, only to have his successor, Republican Gov. Terry Branstad, reverse it. In Virginia outgoing Gov. Terry McAuliffe by executive order restored voting rights to former convicts who had served their time and in Maryland restorative legislation was passed over the Republican governor’s veto.

As any good coach or athlete can tell you, fundamentals win the game. For too long Democrats and progressives have neglected the fundamentals of voting and election reform while the forces of dark money have perverted democracy. Every “blue” state needs to enact these reforms not just to protect their own electorate but to build momentum for when progressives regain state governments in 2018. Al Smith, the first Catholic to run for the presidency, and named one of the 10 best governors in US history by historians, once said, “the only cure for the ills of democracy is more democracy.”

Michael Boland served 16 years in the Illinois House of Representatives, including two terms as chair of the House Committee on Elections and Campaign Reform. He is a co-founder of the Citizens Utility Board, which represents consumer interests in rate hearings before the Illinois Commerce Commission. He was an unsuccessful candidate for lieutenant governor in Illinois and state treasurer in Indiana, where he now lives in Fishers, Ind.

From The Progressive Populist, June 15, 2017

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