Alaska may be moving, albeit slowly, toward adopting a key voting reform that makes registration much easier.
Perhaps just as noteworthy: In arguing against it, opponents of the measure are pulling out some world-class anti-democracy rhetoric.
On Friday, the Alaska House approved a bill establishing same-day registration (SDR), which would allow Alaskans to register to vote and cast a ballot all in one trip to the polls, on Election Day or during early voting.
The bill still needs to pass one more procedural vote in the House, and the Senate isn’t expected to take it up until next year, The Juneau Empire reports.
So it could be a while. But if the measure does ultimately pass into law, it would be the second recent major voter registration reform to go into effect in Alaska. Voters in The Last Frontier last fall backed a ballot initiative to create automatic voter registration through the state’s Permanent Fund Dividend, which gives residents a share of oil revenues.
Fifteen states and the District of Columbia already offer same-day registration. Those states’ combined turnout rate is significantly higher than that of states without SDR. Hawaii will join the club when its SDR system goes into effect next year.
Still, one of the Alaska SDR bill’s opponents, state Rep. Dan Saddler, a Republican, said encouraging more voters might be a bad idea, since it might lead “apathetic, less informed” Alaskans to vote.
“Why would you want to bend over backwards to accommodate such voters?” Saddler asked.
In The Great Suppression, I wrote at some length about this kind of anti-voting rhetoric and what it reveals. I argued that in addition to the obvious reasons of partisan self-interest, for many conservative supporters of voting restrictions there’s also a less-noticed ideological element. You can see it in the frequency of comments like Saddler’s, which express the view that we shouldn’t encourage, or sometimes allow, voting by people thought to be uneducated or uninformed, because it will lead to bad election outcomes.
This excerpt from the book contains plenty of examples of conservatives far more prominent than Saddler (including George Will, Jonah Goldberg, and a few Republican members of Congress) making the same case, which goes back to the founding. Among my favorites: “Is it time to revisit a test for people to be able to vote?” Fox News asked a few years ago.
Most of us like to think that despite our differences on a host of issues, we have a consensus around full democracy as the way to resolve them. The value of comments like Saddler’s is that they remind us that’s never really been true.