Encouraging the vote or fearing it

Encouraging the vote or fearing it

- in Fitzsimon File

You would think there would be widespread agreement in a democracy that the more people who vote, the better. Maybe not.

North Carolina currently ranks 35th in the nation in voter turnout and that’s an improvement, due in part to early voting centers and aggressive registration efforts and get out the vote campaigns. The state ranked 47th in turnout in 1988.

Young voters are a big part of the problem. In the 2006 election, just 38 percent of eligible voters aged 18-24 showed up at the polls. Many of them don’t pay much attention to campaigns until a few weeks or days before Election Day and in North Carolina that means many of them can’t vote.

State law requires voters to register at least 25 days before the election. A broad coalition of progressive groups has been trying for several years to change that and the effort got a big boost Wednesday afternoon.

The House Election Law and Campaign Finance Committee approved legislation sponsored by Rep. Deborah Ross to allow people with proper identification to register and vote the same day at one of the state’s early voting sites, up to three days before the election.

The three states with the highest voter turnout all have some form of same day registration. Minnesota leads the nation and has allowed same day registration for 33 years. Seven states currently have some form of letting people register and vote on the same day.

The main opposition comes from people who say they are worried about possible fraud, that somehow a flood of improper votes will be cast or that people will vote more than once.

But the same day registrations go through a verification process, ID is required and states like Minnesota and Maine that have had same day registration for years have had no problems with fraud.  A state legislator from Minnesota appeared before the House committee and made that clear.

Senator Larry Shaw, who has introduced the proposal in the Senate, reminded folks at a news conference that the same predictions of fraud and chaos came when the General Assembly authorized early voting sites across the state several elections ago.  None of those fears have been realized. The record from other states shows none will come with this change either.

Wake County Elections Board Chair John Gilbert says the bipartisan Board unanimously supports same day registration. The Minnesota legislator said that Republicans in his state are just as supportive of it as Democrats.

But that bipartisanship appears to be missing in the North Carolina General Assembly. All the 57 co-sponsors of the House bill are Democrats and the committee approved it on a party line vote, except for Republican Carolyn Justice, who supported it. 

House Minority Paul Stam opposed the bill because he somehow thinks it favors wealthy candidates because they could target unregistered voters late in the campaign. Other Republicans on the committee appear to be following the lead of the far right think tanks that claim that letting people register and vote on the same day would cause massive problems.

The folks at the Pope Civitas Institute wrote after a Senate committee hearing on the bill that “the amount of abuse and fraud enabled by this legisla­tion is nearly incomprehensible. The concern of elections officials was evident by their attendance at the meeting.” 

Election officials always attend meetings affecting voting and elections. John Gilbert was at the General Assembly Wednesday to offer his support for the bill, not to oppose it.

As to the breathless prediction of “incomprehensible” fraud and abuse, odd that the seven states that currently have same day registration report no problems with it. What’s incomprehensible is that groups like Civitas keep making these predictions with no evidence to support them.

And the real question is not about the misleading anecdotes or even the overheated rhetoric and doomsday predictions, but rather, why are folks on the far right so worried about more people voting?

Wednesday’s committee vote was a victory for democracy and let’s hope the momentum continues.