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Dave Mulryan is the co-founder of Everybody Votes and president of Mulryan Nash Advertising

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The 2020 elections saw a massive surge of voting, drawing the largest number of voters since the election of 1900. This huge increase in voting showed, with some unexpected results, that the care and feeding of the world oldest and most important democracy really does rest on just one thing: voting. This map shows what happens to voting when we look only at the young vote: Arizona, which birthed Barry Goldwater, and has long been a conservative bastion, turns blue. Texas turns blue. That this can be attributed to the young vote is hardly a surprise.

The 2018 mid-term elections saw an uptick in voting, as many people, especially the young, voted at higher rates. Although this uptick was welcome, we still have a crisis of voting, in that not enough of us do it.

Why? The Founders, the white men who wrote the constitution, who muscled the adoption of it through the warring factions that made up the original 13 colonies, made compromises to get the 2/3rds of the colonnies votes needed to allow its adoption. They allowed the adoption of the compromise that there would be NO federal oversight of voting, that the states would be in charge of all elections, even federal ones. The small colonies were concerned that they would be overwhelmed by the large states, so they insisted on equal numbers of Senators, 2 per state, and used the House Of Representatives as a way for proportional representation. They also restricted voting to white men with property, and for the state legislators to choose their Senators — direct election of Senators would not take place until 1913. Voting was for elites, and echoes of that resonate today.

There has been progress — women got the vote in 1919, minorities got the vote when President Lyndon Johnson pushed through the Voting Rights Act, and the Civil Rights Act. He failed to get the voting age lowered to 18, although he tried. Two states, Oregon and Texas, used the federal courts to delay the implementation of 18 year old voting, and the voting age was only lowered after President Nixon brokered a deal, and the constitution was amended to allow for 18 year olds to vote.

So, there has been progress, yet voting remains anemic. Most federal elections are decided with 50% of the eligible voters voting; some elections, like Mayor’s races and school board elections can be decided with as little a 6% of the eligible voters turning out. The 2020 elections, with a presidential race, saw voter turnout in New Mexico of a little over 52%. This is still awful.

We are now facing a huge bulge of new voters, the millennials, and their numbers are astounding. This chart shows birth rates, and this bulge of population can determine every election, if they choose to vote and choose to register to vote and to vote. The 64,000 dollar question: Will they?

Birth rates, and the number of people turning 18. source: CDC.

We, Everybody Votes, and The New Mexico Voter Group, have established organizations to focus on registering voters. We have focused on the nuts and bolts of registering voters: setting up tables, getting forms, getting the young voter to register, getting the forms to the County Clerk. Yet, we despair that we are not doing enough. Many eligible voters, especially the young ones, breeze by us, muttering something vague about “no voting.” We have registered a huge chunk of voters, with few resources, and so we know that it can be done. Yet, we are NOT efficient, we need to scale, we need to have voter registration brought to the fore all over the country. Clearly we could use resources, money, but we also believe that we need a revolution in the person that registers the vote, the Voter Registration Agent.

How do we do this?

In short, we need to move voter registration from a passive endeavor to an active one. Oregon, with its automatic voter registration, is showing how this can work. Vote by mail elections seem to increase participation. Yet, the adoption of these nationwide seems to be a ways off, and we need to register these voters now.

“We have listened closely to the voters that we do register, and the ones that don’t want to register. Although we are reluctant to draw broad conclusions, because there was no designed research study, it was simply observational, there was enough data for us to draw some conclusions:”

  1. The person who registers someone to vote is the very first contact that people have with the mechanics of democracy. The Voter Registration Agent needs to be prepared to both register the voter, and to give the person registering a reason WHY to register, and why they need to vote. That is asking a lot, but it seems to be the requirement to have a succesful encounter.
  2. Few states require any training for people that want to register other voters. New Mexico, which requires a training class, is one of the strongest. Their training, handled by the county clerks, requires an understanding of the registration form, and requires a formal issuance of a voter registration number. The state issues a VRA certificate, and assigns a number, which allows for the tracking of the activities of the Voter Registration Agent.
  3. We have, in New Mexico, a huge number of people who have taken the class required to register their fellow citizens to vote. Yet, we have few who actually do it. It appears that many people are willing to register others to vote, but then after taking the class, they fail to do so. We hypothesize that many of the VRA’s feel ill-equipped to register voters, even after the class, so they don’t.

We have a huge task ahead of us. We are heading into what I would say is the most important election in a century. Are we going to be prepared to register the voters that will be required to confront the task? We can, if we recognize that the person registering the new voter needs to be prepared. They need to know when the next election is. They need to be able to explain the role of the voter in the democratic process. They need to be able to rebut conventional wisdom, in that “My vote doesn’t count,” and explain how that vote DOES count.

None of this will simply happen. We need a complete curriculum that teaches people to register voters. We need to teach the person that is registering what they need to know: facts, how the process works, what is coming up in the very near term that the new voter will vote on. Stacy Abrams, who led a group that registered 800,000 voters in Georgia, shows what can be done with leadership and political will: she, and her group, will help decide the balance of power in Washington. If the two Senate seats that are in a runoff can both go Democratic, then the Democrats will hold a razor thing margin in the Senate, giving the Biden Adminstration the ability to govern.

We need resources, we need direction, we need to scale. We can and have identified the problem, and we need to quickly implement the solution. We can do it, if we want to. Do we, as citizens of the worlds oldest and most important democracy, have the will to do this? I hope we do. I believe we can.

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