- Paul Constant is a writer at Civic Ventures and cohost of the “Pitchfork Economics” podcast.
- In a recent episode, he spoke with Andrea Hailey, the CEO of Vote.org, about voter participation in the US.
- She says organizing automatic and easy online voter registration can help increase voter participation.
I used to love voting in person. Something about the civic duty of going to a polling place, waiting in line with your neighbors, and filling in your ballot in a booth, to me, always felt like the quintessential American experience. So when my home state of Washington switched to vote-by-mail in 2005, I felt a little cheated out of that pageantry and shared democratic celebration.
Today, though, I can’t imagine voting any other way. News reports of voters in Georgia standing in line for more than 10 hours to cast their ballots feel like dispatches from a cruel foreign dictatorship. I vote with an open browser window at the ready so I can research both sides of an initiative or look up prominent candidate endorsements, and by the time I drop my completed ballot in the mail, I’m entirely confident that my vote accurately reflects my values. By the time Election Day comes around, my ballot has usually been received and verified by King County for roughly two weeks, so I know my vote will count.
What’s more, my voting record has hugely improved. Even though I’ve always considered myself to be a huge political nerd, my voting record before vote-by-mail was spotty for all but the November general elections. I missed a number of special elections and primaries before 2005, but since switching to vote-by-mail I haven’t missed an election in 16 years.
In the latest episode of “Pitchfork Economics,” Andrea Hailey, the CEO of Vote.org, explains that even though she leads the nation’s largest nonpartisan digital voter engagement organization, she had to wait in line for seven hours in her home state of Indiana to cast her ballot early.
“A simple choice to add more locations for early voting would have solved that,” Hailey said. In fact, limited locations for early voting, onerous ID laws, shortened hours for polling places, and other “cumbersome” requirements are all “policy decisions and deals that people cut on purpose to try to minimize the participation” of voters, Hailey added.
Hailey stressed that while voting by mail would be a hugely meaningful reform in many states, simply establishing a vote-by-mail system isn’t enough. Unhoused people and people who are unsure about their voting status need to vote, too, so “keeping polling locations open for people who may need assistance” is vital. Promoting automatic voter registration, easy online voting registration, and other policies that remove friction from the voting process should be priorities for anyone who wants to increase participation in the voting process.
Even though there is no legitimate evidence of widespread voting fraud anywhere in the nation, state Republican leaders have responded to the 2020 elections with bills that force people – especially demographics that traditionally vote Democratic, like Black people and young people – to wait in lines at a dwindling number of locations and navigate a web of burdensome restrictions in order to cast their ballots. “I think these things are absolutely intentional,” Hailey said, adding that “we’re seeing an increase in bills targeting these populations all across the country.”
It’s an unfortunate fact of history that voting rights have never been easily won or kept – even in ostensibly free democracies like the US. Women, Black Americans, and virtually everyone in the country who was not a wealthy white male landowner has at one time or another had to make a ruckus in order to vote. Unless Senate Democrats repeal the filibuster, it’s highly unlikely that national leaders are going to pass good nationwide voting legislation anytime soon. That means it’s up to the people to take to the streets and demand their rights.
The good news is that turnout among young voters was exceptional in 2020 and “once a voter shows up at least two times, they’re highly likely to continue voting, because voting is a habit,” Hailey said. And even in restrictive states where Republicans are trying to suppress democratic participation, anyone who wants to register to vote, check their registration status, or request an absentee ballot can do so easily at vote.org.