Here's my latest column in the Courier-Journal, reprinted with permission;
The surest way to win a contest is to change the rules to suit one’s side. To that end, Democrats seek to guarantee victory through election “modernization.” Step one would implement automatic universal voter registration; step two would make voting compulsory.
Democrat-controlled Oregon (the first state to legalize assisted suicide) is also the first state to enact universal automatic registration, quickly followed by fellow blue state California. According to the Brennan Center, five states have approved it, and 29 states have considered it, thankfully not Kentucky. It’s been introduced at the federal level.
Automatic voter registration replaces an opt-in system with an opt-out. When a citizen goes to the Department of Motor Vehicles or other government agency, he is automatically registered to vote — unless he opts out. This is the opposite of our current system, at least in Kentucky.
There are some unintended consequences. Voter rolls will become more inaccurate. Many states allow illegal aliens to get driver’s licenses and other benefits. Inevitably, automatic voter registration will dump some percentage of ineligible voters on the rolls, either through bureaucratic negligence or an irresistible opportunity to cheat.
Inaccurate voter rolls invite vote fraud. Names cannot be fraudulently voted unless they are on the rolls.
In addition, automatic voter registration can actually disenfranchise primary voters, the opposite of the policy’s intent. The default party status for automatically registered voters is independent. Some Oregon voters who were automatically registered did not know they had to contact the state to designate registration with a political party. So they lost the opportunity to vote in Oregon’s closed primary.
At least Oregon Democrats haven’t made the default party registration Democrat, with an “opt-out” for Republicans.
To be sure, voting registration should be easy and convenient. Approximately one-fourth to one-third of Americans are unregistered. Voter registration drives that target high school students, like Inspire Kentucky, are to be commended for improving those numbers.
But automatic registration paternalistically assumes that non-registered citizens are too stupid to figure out how to register or too lazy to bother; therefore, the state must step in and do it for them. That’s insulting. Yet apparently it’s how some Democrats view their potential electorate.
In any event, automatic registration only increases voting slightly, by 3 percent,according to MIT and Wittenberg University. That’s why Democrats like President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, who favor automatic registration, also support its evil twin, mandatory voting.
Compulsory voting is modeled after countries like Australia that impose fines on citizens who fail to vote. We don’t want to be outclassed by North Korea: 100 percentvoter turnout!
After Democrats lost the 2014 mid-term elections, Obama called for compulsory voting to transform the country. And indeed it would, but not in a good way.
Voting is speech. Compelling a citizen to vote is compelling that citizen to speak even if he wants to stay silent. Our government’s legitimacy rests upon the just consent of the governed. If those governed are forced to vote against their will, there is no true consent.
Compulsory voting is an authoritarian encroachment on our most fundamental liberties. Any time the government forces us to do something, it diminishes our freedom. (Hello, Obamacare.) How sad to do so in the context of voting, which should celebrate and reflect our freedom from tyranny.
Proponents of compulsory voting justify its coercion by pointing to low voter turnout, as if that is necessarily a bad thing. People who have no interest in voting likely haven’t educated themselves on the issues or the candidates. Is a forced vote, cast randomly, really better than a vote not cast?
This issue comes up with judicial elections. Many non-lawyer friends tell me that they do not vote in the judicial elections because they don’t know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice and there are too many races to remember endorsements. So they leave blank the section of the ballot on judicial candidates.
Such voters are not derelict in their civic duty. To the contrary, they have the humility to know what they don’t know and therefore defer to voters who are more engaged in those races.
Sometimes the decision not to vote is a protest vote — speech that says, in effect, “my choices stink.” Imagine what our choices will look like if we have no choice but to pick one. Worse yet, the winner will claim a “mandate.” A mandated mandate.
I never miss voting in an election. When I vote, I give thanks for those who sacrificed their lives in service to our country. I view voting as a right and a privilege, paid for with blood. To legislate it into an obligation subject to a fine for non-compliance — like paying taxes — seems un-American.