Joshua Douglas: In response to commission's request that states turn over voter information, some voters are trying to unregister
This is not the way to oppose the commission or Trump, as it will hurt democracy and could influence upcoming elections, writes Douglas
Editor’s Note: Joshua A. Douglas is a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law, voting rights and constitutional law. He is the co-editor of “Election Law Stories.” Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaADouglas. The opinions expressed are his own.
President Donald Trump and Kris Kobach’s voter fraud commission is a stain on our democracy. It is already harming voters by reducing the registration rolls.
Two weeks ago, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked election officials in all 50 states to turn over detailed voter information. Now, in response, voters in some states – such as Colorado, Florida and North Carolina – are seeking to “unregister,” asking their states to remove them from voter rolls before any information is sent to the commission.
As Denver elections director Amber McReynolds lamented, “I never expected to see more withdrawals in a day than new registrations. The impact on voters is real. The impact on civic engagement is real. The impact on election offices is real.”
This is bad for our elections – although it’s undoubtedly the kind of response Trump and Kobach, the commission’s vice chairman, were hoping for. It seems clear that the true, unstated goal of the commission is not to make it easier to vote or improve our election system but instead to use the veneer of voter fraud concerns to justify stricter election laws.
Trump could well try to use supposed “findings” that voter registration rolls are bloated (including, for example, with people who have died or moved, which has little to do with fraud) to argue for the repeal of the National Voter Registration Act, also known as Motor Voter, which makes it easier to register to vote and imposes limits on states purging their lists.
Now some voters are doing that work for Trump and his commission. But giving up the ability to vote against him is not the way to protest Trump’s actions.
Although the number of people taking themselves off of the voter rolls is small now, if this activity continues it could be consequential in close elections. Hillary Clinton won Colorado in 2016 by about 130,000 votes; Donald Trump won Florida by just over 100,000. And don’t forget the 2000 presidential election in Florida, which came down to 537 votes.
Unless those voters who are removing themselves to oppose Trump re-register in time, they will probably shrink the Democratic nominee’s chances in these states.
In the meantime, in 2018 Florida will have a US Senate election and voters in all states will elect members of Congress. Local elections are often decided by just a few votes. Reducing the voter rolls could influence these races, but probably not in the way those who wish to protest Trump’s commission are hoping.
More importantly, democracy suffers when voters do not participate. We should strive for high voter turnout, not reduced engagement. Elected leaders derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed, and that consent should come from as many eligible voters as possible.
We already have woefully poor voter turnout, particularly in midterm elections and we should not reduce participation even further in protest of a sham voter commission’s wrongful actions.
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In any event, unregistering probably will not protect public data already on the voter rolls, which political parties use all the time. And lawyers are already bringing several lawsuits against the commission under a variety of legal theories. So instead of removing themselves from the political process, these wary voters should instead become more engaged in politics.
They should support ways to make voting easier by advocating for automatic voter registration, early voting, the repeal of felon disenfranchisement and other democracy-enhancing rules. They should help efforts to expand the electorate, such as the push to lower the voting age to 16 for local elections.
The way to protest the Trump-Kobach voter fraud commission is to engage more, not less, in our democracy.