Here is a novel notion: Why not make democracy easy?
Why not take the trouble out of registering to vote—and out of voting?
It can be done. Other countries, where voter turnout is dramatically higher than in the United States, craft their laws to encourage voting.
Unfortunately, politics gets in the way of voting-friendly elections in the United States.
At least in most states.
It is no secret that these have not been easy times for the cause of voting rights.
An activist majority on the US Supreme Court has invalidated key sections of the Voting Rights Act, and the traditional defenders of the franchise—Congressmen John Conyers, D-Michigan, and James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisconsin—are struggling to renew the bipartisan coalition in support of robust protection for free and fair elections.
Beyond Washington, the debate frequently takes a turn for the worse. According to a Brennan Center review last year, almost two dozen states have since 2010 enacted laws making it “harder to vote.” And that is only the beginning of the story; The Nation recently reported that “From 2011 to 2015, 395 new voting restrictions have been introduced in forty-nine states.”
Lots of bad news for democracy, to be sure.
But not all bad news.
Some states have acted to expand voting rights—and get high-turnout elections to shape governments that reflect the will of the people.
Famously, Oregon has since 1998 used a vote-by-mail model as the standard mechanism for voting. (Washington state and Colorado now do the same.)
The results have been pretty impressive for Oregon: In 2014, while voter turnout nationally was just 36 percent, Oregon voter turnout was well over 50 percent.
The Oregon Secretary of State at the time of the 2014 election was an enthusiastic pro-democracy campaigner named Kate Brown. After the state again registered some of the best voter-participation numbers in the nation, Brown explained, “There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that we see high turnout because of vote-by-mail. It’s extremely convenient and accessible; it’s secure and cost-effective.”