What’s Next In The Voting Rights Saga?

January 21st, 2022 by Tom Lynch

After months of political maneuvering, all of it sideways, the mammoth Freedom To Vote Act, went to its grave this week.

So, what happens now? Short answer? Probably nothing. However….

If cool heads prevail (a big lift), I suggest there are three provisions of the Bill that warrant resurrection. Warrant in the sense they might have a ghost of a chance of becoming law.

First, there is the matter of how we treat election day in the U.S. Federal and Congressional elections happen on the Tuesday following the first Monday in November every two even-numbered years. Thus, the next one, our Midterms, happens on 8 November of this year, 2022. These Tuesdays are treated as any other work day, albeit a work day set aside to be voting day, too.

Why is that? Does treating Election day as a work day inhibit, or even discourage, a citizen’s inclination or ability to exercise the right to vote? And is voting a “right,” or a privilege? Ask anyone in the country that question, and they’ll answer it’s a right. So, why do we make it a shade difficult? Shouldn’t we do everything in our power to remove any barriers standing in the way of that right?

In all but seven of the 38 OECD member countries election day happens on the weekend, most often Sunday, or it is treated as a federal holiday. In some, election day spans more than one day; India’s, for example, begins on Thursday and ends the following Sunday. The UK, one of the seven, currently conducts elections on a Thursday, but there is a strong movement to change to Sunday. Along with the UK, the seven outliers are the Scandinavian countries, Canada, Ireland, and us.

One of the sections of the Freedom To Vote Act, Section 1011, would have made the Tuesday following the first Monday in November every two even-numbered years a federal holiday. For a country that prides itself as the leader of the free world for the last century, it doesn’t seem a long pull to make election day a federal holiday. At least, not to me. This would not require a Constitutional Amendment, just congressional approval. “Ay, there’s the rub.”

Second, there is the matter of congressional redistricting, which happens every ten years following our decennial census. Writing about this last week, I tried to demonstrate the fiasco this always causes, using North Carolina and Ohio as examples. Not to put too fine a point on it, but my old Army buddies would describe this every ten year bloodletting as a SNAFU of the first order.

The Freedom To Vote Act, in Sections 5000 to 5008, aimed to streamline redistricting and would have forbade partisan gerrymandering. It would have prohibited a state from doing anything in its redistricting efforts that would “materially favor or disfavor a political party.” But the Act’s redistricting provisions were long, complicated and aimed to eliminate every issue, no matter how significant (or not) perpetuating partisanship. I suggest smaller would be better. Given the proclivities of our political parties, especially when they’re in power, perhaps a simple prohibition on materially favoring or disfavoring a political party might be easier for our District of Columbia geniuses to swallow?

Finally, I’d like us think about the process by which we register to vote. As it stands now, if a person wants to vote, they have to register to do it. If one does not take the steps, make that go through the trouble, to visit the office of a city or town clerk, fil out the appropriate paperwork, and sign on the dotted line, one cannot vote.

Is this the way it should be in a country that views voting as a “sacred right?”

The Freedom To Vote Act would have made voting registration automatic when getting or renewing a driver’s license. It would have guaranteed a person could “opt out” of registration, but that would have taken an affirmative action on the part of the registrant. It would have provided grants from a federal Election Assistance Commission to fund the process. The newly registered voter would not be required to vote, but at least they would not have to jump through bureaucratic hoops to do so.

This is how The Freedom To Vote Act put it in Section 1002:

(3) AUTOMATIC REGISTRATION.—The term ‘automatic registration’ means a system that registers an individual to vote in elections for Federal office in a State, if eligible, by electronically transferring the information necessary for registration from the applicable agency to election officials of the State so that, unless the individual affirmatively declines to be registered or to update any voter registration, the individual will be registered to vote in such elections.

If you’re against automatic registration, I have to ask why? After all the political fighting of the last couple of years over voter registration, would not this be a solution everyone should embrace? That is, of course, unless you’d rather continue to make it difficult for certain people. I think we’re better than that.

There are some who will say these suggestions are not needed. Things are running fine. Voting’s not broken, so why fix it? If you are in that camp, I have some prime beachfront property I’d like to sell you just as soon as the tide goes out.

These three simple and doable enhancements to our voting laws would make voting easier and more fair, and would show the American people we value their participation in governing this great country. Further, adopting these improvements would demonstrate to our international friends and enemies alike that democracy is very much alive in this country and is not slowly dying as so many believe.

These measures will bind us together, not drive us apart.