RVA Politics is a blog about politics in the state of Virginia And the capital city of Richmond.

The author is a political scientist. Please don't hold that against him.

 

Democracy: Inconvenient for political parties

This past weekend, the League of Women Voters hosted an event in Richmond to train organizations that want to hold voter registration drives. This is generally a good thing; voting is our most basic political right, and we should provide resources to groups to help them get more people to vote. (H/t to Delegate Betsy Carr for promoting the event through an e-mail to at least some constituents, which is how I found out about it.)

So what's the problem? The training is actually REQUIRED of groups that want to hold voter drives in Virginia. Based on a 2013 law, if your organization requests at least 25 voter registration forms, you have to complete the training. The Virginia Board of Elections offers some training classes (including the one sponsored by the LWV noted above), and some local offices may do so also. You can also complete a 30-minute online training course.

Maybe that doesn't seem so much a burden. But it's yet another restriction that makes it harder for people to vote. Advance voter registration is outdated and pretty useless to begin with, and now the state has made it so groups have to jump through more hoops to try to ease the process for people. And it's not just the training; the 2013 law also prevents groups from pre-populating the form at all (to enter in zip codes, say), and discourages photocopying.

This particular 2013 law was in some ways a response to the ridiculous ACORN "scandal" manufactured by conservative gadfly (and serial liar) James O'Keefe. O'Keefe used doctored videos to claim that ACORN was committing voter fraud on a vast scale, even though a series of state investigations exonerated the organization.

But the VA law is part of a bigger picture, one in which the two parties collude to restrict the electorate in various ways. Republicans are more guilty of these restrictions, in part because a chief piece of their electoral strategy is preventing Democratic voters from getting to the polls. But both parties are guilty of making it harder, and not easier, to vote.

In some ways, the two main parties act as cartels, using the rules of the game to maintain their powerful position. (Politics nerds can review the much-cited work of political scientists Richard Katz and Peter Mair on party cartels.) Even the #2 spot in a two-party system of collusion is better than being one of a group of also-rans. So parties create a system that makes the electorate easier to manage, as well as all the other rules that keep them on top. (Like the rules that restrict external third party challenges and internal outsider candidacies, as I noted last week.)

The textbook I use in my American Government course describes American political history as a battle between elite democrats, who want to restrict participation, and more popular democrats. But even elite dems (who include our founding fathers, by the way) think that the masses should be able to voice their concerns through elections. Instead, our current rules tend toward an aristocracy - rule by the wise, supposedly, but really those with resources.

If you want to have a democracy, and not rule by the rich, then one thing you can do is make it easy to vote. Our political parties are doing the exact opposite.

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