Editorial: The pure politics behind automatic voter registration
The occasional drives to make it easier for people to vote sound like extremely democratic things.
They're a bit like Mom and apple pie. Who could possibly oppose them?
And certainly, we're among the chorus that frequently bemoans the low voter turnout that usually greets American elections. Some of these legislative efforts do indeed make sense.
But excuse us for asking a hard question: What is the benefit to democracy of increasing voter turnout if those added voters in large part may be uninformed?
It could be argued, for instance, that if you can't take the fraction of time it takes to register to vote, what are the odds that you will take the more considerable time needed to study the candidates and the issues?
On this page last week, Cook County Clerk David Orr, long a champion of open voter registration, renewed his call "for a voter registration renaissance, driven by technology, to encourage greater participation by eligible voters."
We don't doubt Orr's passion on the subject, but curiously, his description of the Automatic Voter Registration now under consideration in the General Assembly described the measure primarily as a way to help voters avoid having to re-register every time they move.
It is much more than that. It essentially would make registered voters out of every licensed driver in Illinois who meets the age requirements and isn't a felon. (Whether that would include undocumented immigrants is a matter of some debate.)
It's passed the Illinois Senate with support from suburban Democrats and opposition from suburban Republicans. It's yet to be taken up in the Illinois House.
While the matter sounds like a change simply to promote more voting, it's important to understand that most of the legislative efforts on voter registration are driven by pure politics.
It's easier for political parties to get out their vote if they don't need to worry about whether they're registered. Just as early voting is not really about convenience for the voter; it's about helping party organizations.
In this case, many of the blocs of potential voters who tend not to register tend also to slant toward the Democratic Party.
Ergo, Democrats generally support automatic registration; Republicans generally oppose it.
Like so much in Springfield and Washington, the politicians don't like to talk about what's really going on.
What's really going on here is pure and cynical politics.