In the 2016 presidential election, Texas ranked 49th in the nation for voter turnout at 51.6 percent. That being said, the turnout in most states was still less than desirable. The 15th Amendment of the Constitution guarantees that a citizen’s right to vote will not be abridged by race, color, or previous condition of servitude, but by not implementing automatic voter registration, the government is doing exactly that. Texas, in particular, has a complicated voting history, part of which includes voter discrimination. San Antonio Express News reflects on proposed voter ID regulations that were struck down five times in 2017 as “draconian.” Some of the proposed regulations included requiring voters to show one of seven approved forms of photo identification at the polls, all of which were documents “disproportionately held by white voters.”
Backlash against this policy forced Texas legislators to pass Senate Bill Five, which allows voters to present an alternate form of ID in exchange for signing an affidavit confirming that they have neither an approved form of identification nor means of attaining one. However, the affidavit creates costly criminal penalties for perjury that critics believe propagate voter intimidation. Even now, Texas Republicans and Democrats are split over the ethicality of both policies, despite the Fifth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel throwing out the original challenge to Senate Bill Five.
Fortunately, the most effective route to please both parties, not just in Texas but also nationwide, is a simple one — implementing “opt-out” automatic voter registration. This system removes any possibility of the states violating the 15th Amendment while also squashing Republican fears of voter fraud. Moreover, automatic voter registration does not mean that you have to vote. In an “opt-out” system, one may simply decline the opportunity to be registered. Whenever a citizen has a “qualifying interaction” at their state’s DMV, such as renewing or obtaining a license, which both require proof of citizenship, the computer system checks to see if the person is either registered or qualified to register to vote. If they are qualified and unregistered, the computer sends the information to the Elections Division. From there, a postcard is sent to the citizen with three options. First, if the citizen takes no action, they’ll be registered to vote as unaffiliated. Second, they can mail the postcard back with an indicated political preference to register with a political party, and finally, they can also mail the postcard back to decline registration.
Oregon is one of the most successful examples of the large-scale implementation of this system. In June 2017, The Washington Post reported that since implementing automatic voter registration, Oregon registered over 270,000 new voters, leading to a 41.1 percent increase in voter turnout, one of the largest increases between 2012 and 2016 among eligible voters in any state.
Even better than just a higher voter turnout was who, exactly, was voting. 40 percent of those registered by OMV were from ages 18 to 29, one of the most underrepresented age groups in voter turnout statistics. Furthermore, people registered by OMV were statistically more likely to live in lower-income sectors where most adults had a high school education or less. These areas are more racially diverse, meaning that OMV allowed more African-Americans and Latinos easier access to use their right to vote.
Some critics of automatic voter registration argue that on a larger scale, it would disproportionately raise voter turnout in favor of the Democratic party because of its aforementioned increases in minorities registered. However, this system does not shift voting power any more or less radically than blatant partisan gerrymandering. For instance, Austin, which holds perhaps the most significant proportion of Texas Democrats, is currently split by Republicans into six voting districts, none of which contain more than 25 percent of the Austin population. The ramifications of this districting are enormous; it allows the Republican party to elect an unproportional number of congressmen.
Ultimately, the automatic voter registration system does not radically shift voting power, but rather serves to counter a pre-existing imbalance of power. Given a choice, most voters choose the path of least resistance, meaning that if they’re automatically registered, they’re more likely to vote and less likely to opt-out of the system. By making the voter registration system as painless as possible and simultaneously removing any race or color bias in current voter registration protocols, automatic voter registration is the best way to apply the intentions and goodwill behind the 15th Amendment to the modern-day.
Categories: Domestic Affairs