In Candid Moment of Acceptance Speech, Obama Vows Voting Reform

If you’re into that sort of thing, I thought the President gave an excellent if a bit stentorian speech last night, weaving in plenty of different themes we should look for in a second term. But the most important part of this was a throwaway line that was probably not in the prepared text, something David Kurtz caught as well. The prepared remarks attempted to make a virtue of the arduous task of voting in this country, and the ad-libbed comment actually reflected the absurdity of the fact that voting should be so hard.

I want to thank every American who participated in this election. (Applause.) Whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time — (applause) — by the way, we have to fix that. (Applause.)

“We have to fix that.” It was a small, inconsequential line, but it spoke volumes to not only a path to success for the future, but the fundamental rights that must be secured for every American.

When people can vote, liberals win. I think that’s one of the major takeaways of the night. Take a look at the historic victories for marijuana legalization, a blow against thirty years of the war on drugs. The measure passed in Washington and Colorado. What’s the unifying thread? Washington is 100% vote-by-mail, and Colorado has enough vote-by-mail and early voting options that 80% of the electorate voted before Election Day. Marriage equality and LGBT rights got validated at the ballot box for the first time ever in four states. What’s the unifying thread? Maine and Minnesota have Election Day registration. Washington, as noted before, is 100% vote by mail. Maryland has ample early voting. Expanding the voter universe with online voter registration completely changed the political landscape in California.

This isn’t fully determinative: you can raise opportunities for voting and still have a working conservative majority. But expanding the voter universe doesn’t just have an interest-group goal. It has a civic goal of expanding participation in democracy. There’s plenty more to do than voting, but it’s a good first step. And the war on voting in Republican-led states this year, which was successfully muted by an outstanding judicial-based effort (including from the Civil Rights Division of Obama’s DoJ), was unconscionable.

It should be noted that millions LESS people voted, in all likelihood, in the 2012 election, relative to 2008. So there’s ample room for increases in voter participation, as well as snuffing out the immoral limits on voter participation.

Determination on election reform from a President, who wants to leverage the now-common voting horror stories into a mandate for change, is very important and should not be forgotten. There’s plenty we can do at the federal level, well beyond the Help America Vote Act, to ensure access to the franchise. This is a completely necessary component to our democracy. And throwaway line or not, we need to return to it and hold the leader who vowed fixes accountable.

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