On Thursday, Hillary Clinton accused Republicans of trying to suppress the vote through voter identification laws, strongly implying that they were doing so out of racist motives. Voter photo ID is standard throughout the world, as Clinton well knows, including poor countries and post-conflict societies. Her remarks continue the divisive rhetoric of the Obama administration, which to this day plays up resentment along racial and class lines to motivate Democrats’ core voters.
Accusations of racial suppression have been a Democratic Party refrain since the Florida recount of 2000, when the state was accused of disenfranchising black voters by removing felons and other ineligible voters from the rolls. Democrats also complained about the Electoral College system, which gave George W. Bush the presidency even though he lost the popular vote. Yet 15 years later, Democrats have done little to improve voter data, and nothing to reform the Electoral College.
As with immigration reform, voting reform is an issue that Democrats find politically useful, but have little real interest in solving. California is among the bluest of states, but ranks 49th out of the 50 states in election administration. Instead of updating the state’s outdated databases, newly-elected Secretary of State Alex Padilla is backing an effort to add voters to the rolls by making registration mandatory, through driver’s license applications. (Oregon is the only other state to do so.)
Democrats favor mandatory (and permissive) registration, as well as long early voting periods, on the theory that the extra effort it takes to register on time and turn out to vote on Election Day favors Republican voters. Those voters less likely to take the initiative on their own, or who somehow lack the time, interest, and resources, are thought to be more likely to vote Democratic. The GOP seems to have accepted these assumptions in pushing back against Democrats’ proposals.
Yet there is no real basis to assume that a bigger electorate, and higher legal voter turnout, will favor Democrats. To take a recent example: In the Israeli elections earlier this year, it was assumed that higher turnout would mean a bigger victory for the parties of the left. The turnout was indeed high–and favored Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose party won in a stunning landslide. Here in the U.S., Republicans swept Congress in the era of early voting and same-day registration.
What Hillary Clinton and the Democrats do not want to admit, or do not understand, is just how difficult it would be to create automatic voter registration. There is no “list of people in the United States.” There is the Social Security registry, which is rife with fraud. There are lists kept at the IRS, the Selective Service, and so on–but these are incomplete. And given bipartisan privacy concerns, there is not likely to be a national identity card anytime in the foreseeable future.
Even if there were some kind of pre-existing registry of eligible adults, the sheer task of transporting the data into a new voters’ roll would prove staggering. Building an Obamacare website was hard enough for the federal government and the handful of state exchanges that tried; building a new voter list from existing data would be an even bigger, more costly, and more difficult project. The task of weeding out the ineligible, the fraudulent, and the deceased would be staggering.
Republicans should call Clinton’s bluff and ask her to explain how she will overcome these obstacles, and at what cost. It will soon become clear that while voluntary voter registration leaves significant gaps, it is almost certainly the simplest and cheapest way of handling the task. There is an urgent need for improvements, including voter ID, which is supported by overwhelming majorities, even among minority voters. But universal voter registration is just an election gimmick.