Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another difference between Democrats and Republicans

Yesterday, the Senate Republicans voted to keep government barriers in place from citizens and taxpayers from voting while the Democrats in the Illinois Senate Elections Committee voted to reduce some of those government restrictions from citizens voting in elections.

The place was Room 400 of the Illinois Capitol (the same room where President Barack Obama used to chair the Health and Human Services Committee five years ago). The occasion was the meeting of the Senate Elections Committee yesterday. And the topic of discussion was House Bill 267, a proposal advanced by Senator Meeks to cut in half the 14-day period before each election when the government no longer permits citizens to register to vote at their current address.

The four Republican Senators (Dale Righter, Randy Hultgren, David Luechtefeld and Dan Rutherford) were united in opposition to the very concept that the legislature might limit the amount of time that the government denies citizens the ability to register to vote. That would lead on a very dangerous path, they said, to same-day voter registration. Besides, the idea of a herd of voters just showing up to vote that are presumably uneducated in not good government, they said.

Got that? The government officials are going to judge which of the taxpayers and citizens -- who decide whether they get to keep their job -- are worthy enough to vote.

The Democratic Senators -- James Meeks, Terry Link, Ira Silverstein, Lou Viverito and Maggie Crotty -- were united behind the bill and the belief that there should be as few restrictions as possible put up by the government between the people and the ballot. The bill passed on a party-line vote, and it will likely pass the Senate on a party-line vote.

I should have been happy, since I drafted the bill and testified in favor of it. But I was left with a very sour feeling. Why would the Republican legislators oppose the bill -- when the election administrators who run the elections were good enough to suggest an amendment last month that removed their opposition to the bill? So even though the bill is not an administrative burden on the people who actually conduct elections in Illinois, the Republican Senators still opposed the bill on principle!

I think this is a hint as to why the Republican Party is dying. On the same day that Pennsylvania (a big, northern industrial state like Illinois with big cities and small towns) lost its last Republican Senator and went into all-blue status with Arlen Specter's switch and the day before a popular Democratic President celebrates 100 days in office and the most ambitious progressive federal agenda in 30 and maybe 70 years, this vote in the Illinois Senate Elections Committee showed me that Republicans have a hostility towards regular people getting more power. They have a fundamental streak of elitism. And it's deadly for them.

There are exceptions. Beth Coulson and Sid Mathias, two suburban Cook County Republicans, voted for the bill in the House. But every other Republican voted no and every single Democrat voted yes. I think there might be a Republican Senator or two that votes yes.

But at base, the principle that the government should stop citizens from registering to vote -- not because it might be administratively difficult or because there might be fraud, because the election administrators who run elections agreed not to oppose the bill, but just because on principle it is better for democracy and for government if fewer people vote -- that's one of the principles of the Republican Party.

And as long as the Republican Party believes that we're better off when fewer people vote, we Democrats are going to be running governments for a good long time.

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