Hillary Clinton spoke at Texas Southern University last week, where she put forward some good and provocative ideas for improving our elections. She wants Congress to fix the part of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court gutted in 2013. She wants to expand early voting periods nationally to at least 20 days. And most provocatively, she advocates automatic universal voter registration across the country, including a program to automatically register high school students to vote before their 18th birthdays. But the partisan way she’s framed the issue—by blaming Republicans for all the voting problems—makes it less likely these changes will actually be implemented should she be elected president. Instead, she’s offering red meat to her supporters while alienating the allies she would need to get any reforms enacted.
On substance, Clinton’s ideas are excellent. Since the Supreme Court’s 2013 Shelby County decision, jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting, such as Texas and North Carolina, have passed or put into place new restrictive voting rules. Before Shelby County, these laws could not go into effect unless these jurisdictions proved that the changes would not make minority voters worse off—something Texas could not prove and North Carolina likely would have failed to prove had it been put to the test. Early voting, especially in-person voting, can be done in ways that both make voting more convenient and take the pressure off the polls on Election Day, assuring that more people who want to vote will be able to do so. I have been pushing for automatic voter registration for a long time—I advocated for it in a 2008 Slate piece—as a way of both easing the greatest barrier to voting and rationalizing and reducing fraud in our election system by having national, single voter-registration identification numbers that people would keep their entire voting lives.