By EITAN HERSH
In the ongoing fight between Democrats and Republicans over election procedures like voter ID and early voting, the Democrats are supposedly the champions of higher turnout and reducing barriers to participation. But when it comes to scheduling off-cycle elections1 like those taking place today, the Democratic Party is the champion of voter suppression.
Indeed, few people will vote today. Many elections are taking place, but almost all are for local offices. School boards, for example, are up for election in Houston; Fairfax County, Virginia; Charlotte, North Carolina and in hundreds of other communities that oversee the education of millions of schoolchildren. But only a small number of highly engaged voters will participate in the elections for these offices.
Scheduling local elections at odd times appears to be a deliberate strategy aimed at keeping turnout low, which gives more influence to groups like teachers unions that have a direct stake in the election’s outcome. But before getting into the details of off-cycle elections, consider the parties’ basic positions on issues of voter participation. As election law expert Rick Hasen has noted, there is a philosophical divide between the parties. Supposedly, for Republicans, small barriers to participation can help the functioning of a democracy. For instance, in recent years, Republicans have been pushing a requirement that voters present identification when they show up to cast a ballot. They argue that voter ID laws can prevent fraud and foster confidence in the electoral system. But they also argue that if an ID requirement deters people who aren’t particularly well-informed or invested in the political process, this might be a net benefit for the electoral system.