Counterpoint: New law bad for free elections

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The phrase “free and fair elections” gets used often as voting reforms are debated. To reduce the risk of this becoming empty rhetoric, it’s important to remember what it means to have a free election – particularly in light of proposals that would virtually automate specific free speech activities.

In a time of increasing federal mandates upon our lives, are Illinoisans truly willing to let lawmakers tilt their elections toward compelled activities, as opposed to totally voluntary selections of any candidate at a time of their choosing? While the “opt-out voter registration” bill, SB2134, is advertised as a cure-all for presumed voter apathy, it also manages to open a door toward greater mandates that may never be shut.

OPINION

Free speech rights are anything but when lawmakers begin to make assumptions, especially for the cause of social engineering.

Our voter registration rules are rigorously enforced across all levels of government to ensure that any individual choosing to exercise their vote is given easy and ample access to registration opportunities. President Bill Clinton’s National Voter Registration Act codified a system of standardized state mandates that require voter registration screenings in all social service agencies. But just as the NVRA increased opportunities to engage, it also preserved free speech by protecting absolute choice to register — no questions asked.

With bills like SB2134, a dangerous new trend is emerging. Governments can create regulations to promote public safety and general welfare, but a line is crossed when civic freedoms are manipulated to cure presumed ills. There is little evidence that increases in voter registration lead to corresponding, improved turnout. In fact, such proposed maneuvers would only further remove Americans from their rights to choose and be responsible for their choices.

Opt-out registration provides a well-oiled lead in to future mandates like seen in some other countries. So, when SB2134 inevitably fails to change voters’ hearts and minds, will the next fix be “opt-out voting” with financial penalties for noncompliance like in Australia, Uruguay and others? President Obama’s recent public support for the concept of mandatory voting could be a harbinger of things to come, unless citizens take a stand.

Catherine Engelbrecht is the Founder of True the Vote, a conservative voters’ rights organization. www.truethevote.org.

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