A straightforward path to Democratic dominance
Republicans are avariciously obsessed with shrinking the electorate. By reducing the number of polling stations, cutting voting hours, and passing onerous voter ID rules (that allow gun licenses but not student IDs), Republicans can bar a good fraction of the enemy electorate from the polling station. This sort of cheating pushes Republicans that much closer to victory, and often makes a decisive difference in close races. (A voter ID law arguably won Wisconsin for Trump in 2016.)
Most Democrats are justifiably outraged by such GOP cheating. But they should be doing far more than trying to defend the status quo against rapacious GOP attacks. Instead, Democrats should respond in kind: not by cheating with their own variety of selective disenfranchisement, but by expanding the electorate. This is both morally appropriate — stripped of political consequences, who could argue that helping more Americans vote is wrong? — and will provide a concrete structural benefit for the party.
Here are five straightforward ways to do it.
1. Automatically register voters
The idea here is that any time you have an interaction with the local bureaucracy — going to the DMV, changing your address at the post office, and so on — you also get automatically registered to vote. That keeps the voter rolls nice and clean, and largely solves the problem of people not being able to vote due to not having updated their address or other such issues, thus expanding the electorate. It has already passed in many states, and is being considered in many more.
2. Make voting easier
Mail-in ballots make voting much easier and more convenient (and is again already available in some states); it can be made universal. Meanwhile, Election Day ought to be made a national holiday and moved to a Friday so that people who procrastinate can still have time to turn in their ballot (and we'll get a nice three-day weekend to boot).
3. Make Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico states
This connects undoing an ongoing tyrannical exploitation of American citizens with the concrete partisan interest of Democrats. D.C. residents — who are more numerous than the residents of Vermont or Wyoming, and pay some $26 billion in federal taxes, more than 22 states — are subject to the total domination of Congress, but have no voting representatives in that body. Puerto Rico, meanwhile, still has not been fully rebuilt from Hurricane Maria eight months ago — unquestionably partly because it has no authority within the federal government.
Statehood for these two places would give their residents power over local and national institutions equal to that of every other American citizen. It would also very likely mean four Democratic senators and a good handful of representatives — literally expanding the electorate by creating entirely new voting constituencies.
4. Restore voting rights for prisoners and ex-cons
Emmett Sanders, who was incarcerated for 22 years, provides an ironclad case for prisoner and ex-con suffrage — complete with model legislation for every state. This would be a critical step in dismantling the gulag-esque American prison state, and transforming the criminal justice system into something deserving of the name — instead of a horrifying, violent warehousing system for social dysfunction.
And for Democrats, the concrete benefits would be obvious. Just the 1.5 million currently incarcerated Americans could easily have swung the election for Hillary Clinton, or for Al Gore in 2000. The population of permanently disenfranchised people is also enormous — particularly in the swing state of Florida, where 1.5 million (largely African-American) people have lost their voting rights. (A state ballot initiative restoring those folks' voting rights is up in 2018.)
5. Mass amnesty for undocumented immigrants
There are about 11 million such people in the United States. Again, the main reason to pass this policy is to fix the broken immigration system and erase a de facto caste system, but it would have the handy side benefit of vastly expanding the Latino voting population, which tends to vote Democratic. Additionally, by removing much of the (largely justified) fear of interacting with government departments, it would also increase the effectiveness of voting drives in the Latino community, which typically has a low turnout.
Democratic elites are sure to be hesitant at adopting ideas with such crass partisan motives. But they should ditch these fussy considerations. Not only is it a self-imposed double standard in an era in which Republicans cheat constantly, but it is morally praiseworthy to expand the franchise in a democratic system — indeed, it's half the point of democracy in the first place.