Reducing state-level voting discrimination is a Trojan Horse for creeping expansion federal power, according to Washington Post Columnist George Will.
Will’s spider sense started tingling after reading remarks by Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez, who suggested the government automatically register all adults by computer rather than require prospective voters to jump through a series of onerous state-imposed hoops. The conservative columnist took this proposal as the first “step toward making voting mandatory,” even though the administration has not endorsed compulsory voting schemes. Will’s main point, however, is that registering more people to vote will give the wrong crowd access to the ballot box:
Because the likelihood of any individual’s vote mattering is infinitesimal and because the effort required to be an informed voter can be substantial, ignorance and abstention are rational, unless voting is cathartic or otherwise satisfying. A small voting requirement such as registration, which calls for the individual voter’s initiative, acts to filter potential voters with the weakest motivations. They are apt to invest minimal effort in civic competence. As indifferent or reluctant voters are nagged to the polls — or someday prodded there by a monetary penalty for nonvoting — the caliber of the electorate must decline.
These so-called “small voting requirements” are often anything but: in Florida, for example, state officials have erected a series of bureaucratic roadblocks and fines that make registration extremely difficult, while several other states have created ID requirements for registration that many citizens can’t meet. Moreover, state-level election officials around the country have been working diligently to make voting as difficult as possible.
Will should also be careful when he talks about “the caliber of the electorate.” Florida’s restrictions on voter registration disproportionately affect poor and minority voters, according to Justice Department lawsuits. Despite an increasingly diverse America, voter suppression laws appear to have driven down African-American and Latino voter registration. The outcry from minority communities about these organized drives to limit voting rights might suggest that Will should rethink the idea that everyone who isn’t voting is doing so by choice.
The column also absurdly invokes Nazism as point against voting rights advocates, suggesting that more voting isn’t necessarily a good thing because “in three German elections, 1932–33, turnout averaged more than 86 percent, reflecting the terrible stakes.” But many instances of high turnout don’t involve a choice over whether to be ruled by Hitler: the French election this year, for example, had roughly 80 percent. American turnout is also extremely low when compared to other developed nations.
(HT: Simon Maloy, who has more.)