Dec 3 / Anthony Balady

The Silent Majority: How False Mandates May Lead to Regressive Laws

The people spoke on November 2, say conservatives who made gains in the House and Senate. However, all this talk of mandates and the “will of the people” rings hollow as a majority of eligible voters did not actually cast a ballot on Election Day.

Project Vote’s latest research memo, An Analysis of Who Voted (and Who Didn’t Vote) in the 2010 Election, reveals that a third of those who voted in 2008, or 43 million people, did not vote in the 2010 midterm elections. Even in the record setting 2008 elections, only 64 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot. In the 2010 midterm elections, non-voters were the majority. So, claims of a mandate that reflects the will of the American people, based on the results of an election where less than 50 percent of eligible voters actually voted, is a bit of a stretch.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the candidates who talked the loudest about receiving a mandate from the American people on Election Day were the most eager to pass legislation making it even more difficult for people to vote.

One would think that, if the 2010 midterm victors have a mandate from the American people, then they are riding the wave of populist anger: if the majority of Americans truly want to “take back their country,” they would be doing whatever it takes to get more people registered and turning up on Election Day. Yet, legislators are pushing for increasingly strict voter registration requirements, like requiring ID at the polls, proof of citizenship laws, and other measures that only serve to lower voter turnout. While pointing to Election Day outcomes as proof of a mandate, legislators are passing measures designed to limit the number of people who are permitted to speak on Election Day.

If politicians want to legitimately claim to have mandates from the American people, they need to do whatever it takes to ensure that all eligible voters actually show up on Election Day and are permitted to vote without facing unnecessary hurdles. No candidate, Democrat or Republican, can truly say they have a mandate from the American people as long as so many eligible voters are still unregistered and turnout is still so low.

Anthony Balady is a legal intern at Project Vote and second-year student at William & Mary Law School. Mr. Balady also serves as vice president of William & Mary’s Election Law Society and editor-in-chief of its election law blog, State of Elections.

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