Friday, October 9, 2015

A Bit of Carter History

While I was loading my Too Many Tabs posts over the past couple of days, I came across one tab that deserves its own post. I read it just after Jimmy Carter announced his cancer prognosis in late August. The subtitle of the article is better than the title: How Jimmy Carter’s 1977 voting reform proposals revealed the dark Id of conservative Republicanism.

To summarize, not long after Carter became president, he put together a package of legislation that would have allowed same-day voter registration in every state. (As you may or may know, Minnesota and several other states have same-day registration and it works just fine. We also have the highest voter turnout in the country.) The bill included increased fines for voter fraud, just in case.

He asked Congress to allot up to $25 million in aid to states to help them comply, and for the current system of federal matching funds for presidential candidates to be expanded to congressional elections. He suggested reforming a loophole in the matching-fund law that disadvantaged candidates competing with rich opponents who funded their campaigns themselves, and revising the Hatch Act to allow federal employees “not in sensitive positions,” and when not on the job, the same rights of political participation as everyone else.

Finally, and most radically, he recommended that Congress adopt a constitutional amendment to do away with the Electoral College—under which, three times in our history (four times if you count George W. Bush 23 years later), a candidate who received fewer votes than his opponent went on to become president—in favor of popular election of presidents. It was one of the broadest political reform packages ever proposed
All of that, and it seemed as though it would pass through Congress, no problem, in this not-long-after-Watergate period.
It was immediately embraced. Legislators from both parties stood together at a news briefing to endorse all or part of it. Two Republican senators and two Republican representatives stepped forward to cosponsor the universal registration bill; William Brock, chairman of the Republican National Committee, called it “a Republican concept.” Senate Minority Leader Howard Baker announced his support, and suggested going even further: making election day a national holiday and keeping polls open 24 hours. House Minority Leader John Rhodes, a conservative disciple of Barry Goldwater, predicted it would pass “in substantially the same form with a lot of Republican support, including my own.”
But it never happened. What went wrong?

Ronald Reagan, gearing up toward his successful run in 1980, the Heritage Foundation, and an influential Republican magazine called Human Events spoke against it, and party members who had supported the package quickly changed their minds. Voter turnout is bad for Republicans, they realized. Democracy is bad for Republicans.

Just one more thing to like about Jimmy Carter that I didn't know.

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