Cultural Revolutions

Being Challenged

Federal voting procedures are now being challenged in ways that could undermine the very integrity of the franchise. And there is almost no public discussion of the issue and little effective opposition.

The idea is to increase voter participation by relaxing voter registration procedures and qualification requirements. We are told that low voter turnout is due to "discriminatory" requirements imposed on people who want to vote but can't deal with the "hardship" of registration. So the effort becomes one of turning nonvoters into voters, which sounds like an unassailable, civic-minded idea. The trouble is that it presents a nefarious potential for influencing electoral outcomes by manipulating the composition of the electorate. The question "Who votes?" becomes crucial. It becomes the political battleground.

Though voting requirements vary in detail from state to state, some basic qualifications have prevailed throughout the country since 1789. Two of these are that voters reside in the jurisdiction in which they vote and that they are United States citizens. These are not specified in the Constitution but are generally accepted assumptions at the core of our idea of democratic government as established by the Founding Fathers.

The residency requirement is under heavy assault, particularly in large cities where community responsibility has eroded and where groups are encouraged...

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