(EDITOR’S NOTE, 7/25/19, 5:26 PM ET: This article was updated to include a quote from NAACP President and WeVoteWeCount.org Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative spokesperson Derrick Johnson about Sanders’ automatic voter registration proposal.)
Bernie Sanders called for automatic voter registration for all Americans aged 18 or over at the NAACP Convention, sparking enthusiastic applause among its primarily African American attendees.
African Americans have long had a turbulent history with voter suppression efforts to keep them away from the ballot box, dating back to the Jim Crow South. Voter disenfranchisement techniques date back before the Civil War, pioneered by industrializing Northern states in the early 1800s seeking to limit the electoral impact of immigrant and working-class Americans.
The United States consistently gets some of the lowest turnouts of any developed democracy in the world. In 2016, only 28.5% of eligible voters cast ballots in the Republican and Democratic primaries – the second-highest number in recent years. Only approximately 58% of eligible voters cast a ballot in the general election.
2016 was the first presidential election in 50 years to take place without the full safeguards of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibits racial discrimination in voting. While the impact of these rescinded protections will likely never be fully tabulated, it has been widely reported that a subsequent voter-ID law suppressed over 200,000 votes in Wisconsin, a swing state that Trump won by 22,748. The law was found to have disproportionally impacted African American and Democratic-leaning voters.
Automatic voter registration efforts have overwhelmingly succeeded in increasing voter turnout on a state level. Oregon was the first state in the country to implement the policy, and midterm elections increased turnout from 43% in 2014 to 60% in 2018. New York is currently poised to become the 17th state to implement automatic voter registration policies. New York is known for having an incredibly difficult voting system, and the passage of this bill is expected to register 15 million New Yorkers.
Bernie echoed his promise of national automatic voter registration on Twitter, promising “As president, I will implement a simple process: If you are a citizen 18 years or older, you are eligible to vote. End of discussion.”
As president, I will implement a simple process: If you are a citizen 18 years or older, you are eligible to vote. End of discussion.
— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) July 24, 2019
In response to Sanders’ announcement, NAACP President and spokesperson for WeVoteWeCount,org‘s Racial Equity Anchor Collaborative Derrick Johnson told Grit Post such measures are necessary to counteract what he called “restrictive voting laws that disproportionately impact historically disenfranchised voters and communities of color.”
“[W]e’re excited that the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates are taking their own stances to deter interference with voting rights, difficulties registering to vote and other barriers to voting,” Johnson said.
(Featured Image: Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)
Nathan Wellman is a Grit Post contributing editor in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @LIGHTNINGWOW. You can also email him at info AT gritpost DOT com.