Moving Toward Consent of the Governed

Rob Baker, Ph.D.

               I argued previously that several threats to our democracy’s survival were simultaneously bearing down on us, and to meet those challenges, we needed to get back to the first three words of our Constitution’s Preamble: “We the People.”  Consent of the governed, the fundamental principle imbued in those words, was what animated our country’s founding spirit.  Yet, a number of developments have steered us away from rule by the people toward what many agree is minority rule.  As I noted, though, there is hope in the recent report of the bipartisan Commission on the Practice of Democratic Citizenship (CPDC).  Below I discuss how their recommendations for making it easier to vote will promote rule by the many instead of rule by the few.

               Let’s begin with two silver linings. First, despite the pandemic, Americans set a modern-day record for turnout in the 2020 election with 66 percent of eligible voters casting ballots.  Some battleground states saw turnout approach 80 percent, and each presidential candidate received more popular votes than any other presidential candidate in history.  Americans clearly understood, and demonstrated, the ultimate power of their votes.  Second, in the face of unprecedented efforts by the President and his supporters to promote distrust in our electoral processes, culminating in the recent deadly attack on the Capitol, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency declared the 2020 election “the most secure in American history.”  Moreover, our democracy’s predominant guardrail–the judiciary—rebuffed dozens of court challenges alleging election fraud.  While this losing record of absurd claims did not surprise most legal scholars, the drawn-out charade unnecessarily stressed the entire nation.  The courts’ clear messages also strongly rebuffed decades of Republican efforts to erect barriers to voting as a supposed bulwark against their false assertions of widespread voter fraud.  

               How can we build on the positive momentum reflected by the above developments? I again refer you to the CPDC’s recommendations aimed at “empowering voters.”  Two of them have been especially effective at increasing turnout: 1) same-day registration combined with automatic voter registration, and 2) preregistration of 16 and 17-year olds linked to instructions on how to vote as part of basic civics classes.  

               Research consistently shows that removing barriers to voting enhances participation.   Several states have a long history with same-day registration, where it has increased turnout 5-7 percent.  Sixteen states have automatic voter registration, and it’s been introduced in 39 others (including Ohio) where it is typically implemented as part of the vehicle registration process with opt-out provisions, and where it has increased registration by as much as 90 percent.   Finally, in the 16 states that combine pre-registration of 16 or 17-year olds with detailed voting instructions, turnout increases by up to 8 percent.  Do you believe every eligible citizen should be able to vote?  If so, will you support these kinds of reforms in Ohio to help move us closer to consent of the governed?

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