Fight For Universal Voter Registration

This piece is part of the Prospect's series on progressives' strategy over the next 40 years. To read the introduction, click here.

No reliable formula exists for reversing corporate ascendance and building a progressive future. It is easy to be intimidated by the self-reinforcing circles of right-wing power—an aggressive conservative Supreme Court majority, a powerful unconstrained super PAC called Fox News, brazen billionaires and all-too-easily-hidden corporate money, and the most intentionally disenfranchised population of any major democracy on the planet.

Yet most progressive victories have come when seemingly undefeatable entrenched power appears to have no flaws—until just before it crumbles. The following strategies all would contribute to a marathon to reclaim our democracy. Each, on its own, is insufficient. Taken together, along with the inevitable overreach by the plutocracy, they offer hope.

• Fight often and eloquently over judicial nominations and elections. We need to step it up against conservative judges and for progressive judges. Most progressive interest groups ignore judicial fights—are AWOL—and most liberal elected representatives are unwilling to draw lines in the sand to defeat conservative nominees (think John Roberts, against whom a filibuster was not mounted) or to press liberal presidents to fill gaping vacancies on appellate courts. Conservative forces, representing both corporate interests and anti-equality social groups, have shifted many state supreme courts in recent years with little or no pushback from progressives. It will take decades to reverse conservative judicial majorities that have blocked progressive electoral victories and regulatory successes, but it must be done.

• Fight for universal voter registration. The country’s original voters were white male property owners, and the spirit of that distorted electorate lives on in opt-in voter-registration rules that discriminate against those who have little or no identification and that limit voting to oddly chosen workdays. All too often, we are allowing conservative interests to pick the electorate. Imagine an election in which every citizen were automatically registered and eligible to vote and could show up at the polls on a national holiday or over an extended period. The results would often be starkly different than what we currently experience.

• Ask for help from allies overseas. In too many ways, the United States resembles a rogue nation, with corporate interests rigging the rules of elections and decision-making to thwart the desires and interests of its citizens. Given the outsize role of our hijacked state—our economy, our military, and our pollution—the United States is often a threat. American public-interest groups—be they environmental groups, labor unions, or consumers—should not hesitate to form alliances with those outside our borders whose interests coincide with those of the American public as distinct from the American state. We need help in rescuing our democracy. It may be that international pressure on U.S. corporations—to stop unlimited election spending or to address carbon pollution—paired with domestic organizing could make a difference.

There are many more strategies to pursue, such as a profound commitment to inclusive immigration reform, an aggressive effort to shift money to credit unions while breaking up the biggest banks, and undermining the economic power of Fox News by requiring cable operators to offer consumers the choice not to subscribe to Fox. These strategies are not in conflict and if relentlessly pursued, can lead to unexpected victories over the most entrenched of opponents. 

Read the other pieces in this series:

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