There is an intense tug-of-war in this nation between those who want to make it easier and those who want to make it more difficult to vote. The simplistic, and largely accurate, narrative is that Democrats want more people to vote and Republicans want fewer. Each side has a high-minded argument: Democrats want to encourage citizen participation in the process; Republicans want to discourage fraud. But let there be no mistake: In each case, principle dovetails neatly with party interest. Democrats tend to gain from higher turnout; Republican voters are likely to be overrepresented when turnout is lower. In many corners of the nation, the trend is clearly favoring voter suppression, especially after a 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling eliminated the nearly half-century-old requirement that areas with a history of discriminatory voting practices — concentrated in the South — would be required to gain federal or court permission before making any changes in their voting procedures.
This lifting of federal oversight has led to a fresh wave of laws designed to tighten registration and ballot guidelines with curious — some would suggest, prejudicial — twists. In Texas, for example, a photo ID requirement accepts a concealed-handgun permit for voting, but not a student ID. Younger voters, the poor and senior citizens are more likely than other demographic groups to get shut out of these voter-suppression schemes.
Enter California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a former state senator and loyal Democrat, with a couple of trend-busting ideas from other states. Padilla reminded that one of the reasons he ran for the office was “what I saw happening in other states: the overaggressive purging of voter rolls, the voter ID proposals, the reduction if not elimination of early voting. I thought it was wrong and, frankly, un-American. “Playing defense on voting rights is one thing. How do we play offense?”
Padilla took one small step earlier this month when he decided the state would allow a court decision to stand that restored voting rights for tens of thousands of ex-felons under the supervision of probation departments. In a meeting with The Chronicle’s editorial board Wednesday, Padilla said he was surprised to have received so little blowback from that action. He said it could affect 58,000 ex-felons.