Democracy is a participatory exercise.
The term comes from the Greek words “demos” (for the people) and “kratia” (power or authority). In a democracy, the power rests with the people.
That power is immense, and it requires a responsibility on the part of the participants. The preamble to the U.S. Constitution begins with the words, “We the people.”
The preamble is a declaration of the intent of the Framers, but it can also be interpreted as a challenge to citizens. This is our show now and we are going to be responsible for running it.
It took a while—almost 200 years, in fact—to arrive at a point where all Americans of a certain age, regardless of gender or race—could participate. But we did get here.
Among the most significant changes in our elections in the last half century has been the trend toward making voting easier.
All but a handful of states offer early voting. At least 21 states and the District of Columbia have same-day registration. Five states offer voting by mail. Most states have some form of absentee voting.
The theory behind these changes has been that we should make it more convenient to vote. Now a proposed federal law would, among other things, expand those voting options to impractical levels.
HR 1, which passed the House of Representatives and now is under consideration in the Senate as S 1 is nearly 700 pages of rules and regulations that would fundamentally alter our elections.
It requires all states to have early voting and sets specific parameters for it, mandates same-day voter registration, automatically registers people to vote using a variety of government databases, compels no-excuse absentee voting, permits ballot harvesting whereby individuals can collect absentee ballots, waters down voter identification requirements, and makes it harder for election officials to clear the voting rolls of people who have died or moved.
There is much more in the bill, but those items alone are enough to create chaos with our elections, especially in a state like West Virginia. Secretary of State Mac Warner surveyed county clerks and could not find one that favored this massive federalization of our elections.
Warner told a Senate panel this week that Putnam County Clerk Brian Wood told him, “It doesn’t matter if you are a Democrat or Republican. If you want to keep democracy intact, you’ve got to leave it up to states to run their elections.”
West Virginia’s clerks ran remarkably smooth Primary and General Elections last year, despite the pandemic. Most states did the same. States where there were issues can make corrections.
Remember the mess in Florida in 2000? The Sunshine State made changes and now gets it right. That is how federalism works. A massive new federal mandate would force every state to abandon what works and meet impossible deadlines for the new requirements.
You think there were a lot of legal challenges in 2020? If this bill passes, just wait until 2022.
But back to the point about our democracy and the power resting with the people. I think that means we the people must make the effort. That includes the conscious decision to register to vote rather than being automatically registered.
That simple act signals the individual is ready and willing to participate in their government.
The next step is paying attention to campaigns, becoming informed about where and how to vote, and then making knowledgeable decisions.
Voting is a right, but it is also a privilege and a responsibility. We should not dumb it down to the point where just showing up counts for participating in the democratic process.