September 27 marks National Voter Registration Day. For many, this day symbolizes American democracy and an invitation to all citizens to participate in the government. What many might not know is that the United States is one of the only democracies in the world to not automatically register voters, instead shifting the responsibility to political parties, organizations, and elected officials with a history of bias.
With twenty-four candidates running, the race to replace outgoing Louisiana U.S Senator David Vitter is one of the most hotly contested elections this year. While competition is emblematic of a healthy democracy, Louisiana’s current electoral system has a defect that is partly addressed by having a majority runoff but still leaves voters in a tough situation during highly competitive races like this one.
Senate Bill 1288, sponsored by Senator Mark Leno, which enables all of the state’s general law jurisdictions to use fairer voting methods, including ranked choice voting, passed the state assembly last Thursday 46-26. The bill passed the State Senate back in May and is now headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown.
Greater Greater Washington and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are currently using ranked choice voting to determine the winner of their MetroGreater contest. This contest invited the public to submit small, low-cost ideas for improving riders’ experiences on the Washington DC Metro system.
Earlier this summer the Supreme Court agreed to review Bethune Hill v. Virginia State Board of Elections, a case challenging the use of race in the 2011 redistricting of Virginia’s 100-seat House of Delegates.
Virginia claimed to be trying to comply with the Voting Rights Act, by insisting that certain districts had to have at least 55% black voting age population. However, as redistricting experts like Justin Levitt have pointed out, this approach is a bad caricature of what the Voting Rights Act requires
Restrictive voter ID laws are being challenged across the country. Courts in Wisconsin and North Carolina have struck down strict requirements for what can be used as a valid form of identification at the polls. The 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, one of the most conservative courts in the country, also ruled that Texas’ voter ID requirements were discriminatory and ordered a lower court to come up with a provision to the law ameliorating the problem in time for the November election.
Illinois state lawmakers took a step towards making their elections more inclusive by expanding the political rights of 17-year-olds. HB 6167, which was signed into law on August 5, 2016, grants 17-year-olds who will turn 18 before the next general election the ability to sign and circulate petitions, pre-register to vote, and help register other eligible citizens to vote.
Two candidates in the Berkeley, California, mayoral race are working together and urging their supporters to rank the other candidate second, providing yet another example of ranked choice voting elections’ ability to incentivize civility.
“When over 40% of Americans identify as independents why is it considered rare?” ask Jake Simms and John Farrell, the founders of a documentary series Third Candidates that follows independents as they continue to improve our electoral systems. They will also take a closer look into organizations that advocate for a fair democracy.
The United States of America does not have an explicit right to vote defined in the U.S. Constitution. While the right to vote has been expanding for over 240 years, American citizens lack any universal protection against voting discrimination.