Democrats on Verge of Voting-Rights Offensive

(Bloomberg View) -- If Democrats do well in November, one of the big differences between now and the last time Democrats did well -- in the 2006 and 2008 elections -- is that voting rights have moved much higher on the party's agenda. Until a couple of years ago, Democrats were mainly playing defense, attempting to fend off Republican moves to make voting more difficult, mainly through voter ID laws but in other ways as well. 

Now Democrats in many states are ready for a voting-rights offensive. They've already gotten automatic voter registration in several states. That seems likely to be extended to other Democratic-governed states if they gain unified party government in more states. 

In Virginia, Democrats won a hard-fought battle over giving voting rights to convicted felons. Now, in Florida, Democrats have organized a ballot measure to restore voting rights for most convicted felons after they serve their sentences. The rules in Florida require 60 percent of the vote, but at least one poll now has the proposition passing with 71 percent in support and only 22 percent opposed. That's good news for proponents, I suppose, but I wouldn't bet on it passing. There's an old saw about ballot measures: The first polls represent a peak, and over time they tend to lose steam, especially when there's a well-funded "no" campaign, which will surely be the case in Florida. Nevertheless, it's good news for the measure that it sounds good at first look to most voters.

I'm a strong supporter of making it as easy as possible for all eligible voters to cast their ballots -- and I generally support expanding eligibility as wide as possible, whether we're talking about criminals or teenagers. As far as I'm concerned, democracy requires as close to universal suffrage as we can get. Might it help one party if the electorate is expanded? That's the wrong question. The better way to look at it is that voting rights are the default, so it requires strong reasons to restrict voting, or even to put up obstacles to it. 

For what it's worth, as I see the evidence, very few election results would change even if the full Democratic agenda on voting passed, although of course very small effects can swing very close elections -- and we've seen very close presidential votes in two of the last five elections. And I'm skeptical of some of that agenda, in particular the redistricting reforms many Democrats are pushing to prevent partisan gerrymandering. But automatic voter registration is an easy call, and so is allowing convicted felons to vote. Both would make the nation more democratic. 

1. Brendan Nyhan at the Upshot on the minimal effects of fake news. Doesn't mean it's not an important political phenomenon -- but don't assume that lots of people are seeing false stories and then changing their vote.

2. Jamila Michener on Medicaid and voting.

3. Dan Drezner on President Donald Trump and asking smart questions.

4. Kevin Kosar on partisanship and the Congressional Research Service.

5. Ronald Klain on what Trump isn't doing to fight the flu

6. Philip Bump at the Washington Post has the stats on Trump's lack of formal solo news conferences. We don't have firm statistics for Trump's impromptu news conferences, or comparable figures for previous presidencies -- or for lengthy interviews, for that matter. The media has put little pressure on Trump to hold formal news conferences; perhaps that's about to change. 

7. My Bloomberg View colleague Francis Wilkinson on partisan polarization and federal law enforcement.

8. Nora Ellingsen and Benjamin Wittes on where Trump got the phony stats on terrorism he used in his State of the Union speech.

9. And here's a new resource on gerrymandering from PlanScore. I'm not much of an opponent of partisan gerrymandering, but I am a fan of factual information, so I can recommend this one. 

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This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg View columnist. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

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