Last week, details about a horrifyingly cynical new program to purge registered voters from election rolls in 27 states came to light. Like so many other GOP-led electoral process reforms — such as installing voter ID requirements, eliminating same-day registration, and curtailing weekend and early voting — Interstate Crosscheck will disproportionately screen out minority voters. This will, not coincidentally, end up benefiting Republican candidates.
Thus far, the Democratic response to these kinds of voter suppression efforts has been pathetic.
Liberal politicians and pundits have cried foul about how anti-democratic and racist the Republican reforms have been and then implicitly advocated a return to the status quo. Instead of merely complaining about cynical Republican efforts to rig elections, Democrats should be cynically pushing their own slate of election process reforms.
One such reform would be paying people to vote. By this I don't mean sleuthing around and paying individuals to vote for Democratic candidates. Rather, the government would give a small amount of cash to every single person who comes out to the polls and casts a ballot, no matter who they support. For instance, one could imagine giving $50 to every one who votes in the biennial national elections, which would cost only $12 billion every two years if every single adult in the country voted.
The purpose of paying people to vote would be to provide a carrot that would transform nonvoters into voters. Even when Republicans aren't trying to keep people who oppose them from voting, it's still the case that certain populations are far more likely to vote than others. In particular, younger and poorer people are much less likely to come out to the polls than older and richer people. And this is true all the way up and down the income and age spectrum.
Because younger and poorer people are much more likely to vote for Democrats, this pattern of voter turnout heavily benefits the Republican Party. For example, going into the 2012 election, voting-age adults favored Barack Obama over Mitt Romney by 51 percent to 39 percent. Among likely voters, however, Obama and Romney were tied at 47 percent to 47 percent. This dramatic difference was caused by the fact that nonvoters, who made up more than four in 10 voting-age adults in 2012, heavily favored Obama by 59 percent to 24 percent.
In addition to their massively higher support for the Democratic Party, nonvoters are also much more likely to hold populist economic views. For instance, nonvoters register higher support for increasing taxes to fund more public services and benefits, expanding health-care coverage, reducing inequality, and government job guarantees.
If these nonvoters voted, Democrats would absolutely dominate national elections. A government that more closely matched the political wishes of the entire voting-age public would be one with permanent Democratic majorities.
As a procedural maneuver, paying people to vote would thus be a genius stroke for Democrats' electoral prospects. The $50 voting bounty would entice more people to vote generally, but it would also entice the poor far more than the rich. For those making very high incomes, $50 is almost nothing. But for those making $7.25 an hour at an involuntarily part-time job, it's huge.
Paying people to vote might seem far-fetched, but it's really not. It'd be easy to implement and, in addition to the cynical advantages it gives to Democrats, there is also a pretty straightforward pro-democracy argument in its favor.
Isn't voting important enough to representative government that people should be paid to do it?