The most important issue that was left out of the Democratic debate

If you’re a Democrat, last night’s debate was a raging success. Hillary looked presidential; Bernie did Bernie; O’Malley proved that he will be a perfectly serviceable candidate the next time the party goes through a nominating process; and the Republicans took it on the chin.

The candidates went out of their way to discuss issues that were all but absent from the Republican debates — pivoting to discussing climate change and campaign finance reform without even having to be asked by the moderators. They skewered the GOP’s pet scandals of Benghazi, Clinton’s email server and Planned Parenthood. They had substantive back-and-forths about gun violence, Wall Street reform and American intervention abroad. Clinton even had a good answer about her abandoning support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (a shameless pander, but a defensible one). They even asked about legalizing recreational marijuana, and Sanders became the first major party presidential candidate to endorse such a measure.

But one issue escaped last night’s otherwise successful debate, which is a shame because it’s one of the most important issues facing American democracy and and the candidates on stage have substantive differences as to how they’d go about addressing it: Voting rights received precisely zero mentions at last night’s debate.

This is particularly odd given how large ballot access looms over the 2016 race. Lawyers affiliated with Hillary Clinton’s campaign have filed lawsuits in a host of swing states challenging the host of their recently-passed voter suppression laws that have been shown to have measurable effects on the outcome of elections. Conversely, a handful of (mostly blue) states have recently moved to expand ballot access by enacting online and/or automatic voter registration. If marijuana deserved a question at last night’s debate due to the flurry of state-level ballot initiatives and legislation dealing with it, then voting rights deserved one, as well.

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, screenshot via CNN / YouTube

Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, screenshot via CNN / YouTube

After all, rules-of-the-game issues like voting rights and campaign finance are arguably more important than public policy issues like climate change and economic inequality and certainly recreational marijuana in that the latter won’t get solved before the former. The non-voting population is considerably more progressive than the voting population on economic issues. As long as wealthy, conservative interests are able to dominate the electoral process such that money equals speech and one person does not necessarily equal one vote, they will continue to dominate the political process, as well.

What’s more, it’s not like Democratic candidates don’t have aggressive, substantive and different plans as to how to expand ballot access and ensure that every American has an equal right to vote. The candidates all have good and interesting ideas on this issue, and those ideas deserved some airtime. Martin O’Malley, for instance, would start by fixing the gaping hole in our Constitution by adding an affirmative right to vote via amendment. Clinton, for her part, has called for legislation requiring states to provide 20 days of early voting and automatic voter registration. Bernie Sanders is a co-sponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, the bill that would restore and update the Voting Rights Act. He has also called for automatic voter registration, making Election Day a national holiday and universal no-fault absentee voting.

In other words, every major Democratic candidate agrees that ballot access is a major issue, and they each have overlapping-but-not-identical strategies for how to address it. What’s more, given the flurry of state-level activity, there’s plenty to talk about.

So while I don’t have all that many gripes with last night’s debate (CNN’s token demographically-aligned questions notwithstanding), the Party, the moderators and the candidates collectively kept one of the most important issues in the election off the table.

Here’s hoping that gets fixed next month.

Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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33 Responses to “The most important issue that was left out of the Democratic debate”

  1. GregH3000 says:

    Dear, go back into your comfortable world of illusion and don’t worry about me anymore. Like the analogy of Plato’s cave, you are intrigued by the shadow play on the cave walls, and can’t take the light of truth that I wish to lead you to however much it blinds you.

    However, I may have planted a seed that you will come to see as all too horribly true; if so, and you are truly open to new information, start listening to Mark Passio on youtube or his website

  2. GregH3000 says:

    Bullshit. You’re laboring under mind control. Look up the Hegelian Dialectic. You think you’re being given a choice, but your not:
    Both parties support rogue terrorist nation Israel
    Both parties support an ever-expanding military industrial complex, militarization of the police, and an expansive corporatocracy
    Both parties support insane and corrupt healthcare industry which hasn’t cured anything major since polio
    Both parties support the Federal Reserve system, corrupt to the core and which robs you of your energy through endless money printing.
    Start listening to Mark Passio on youtube and get a much needed education. Start with his natural law series.

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  4. Bill_Perdue says:

    Voting is not an answer one way or the other.

    Voting or not, government policies will remain the same. Voting changes nothing. That’s not an opinion, it’s a fact.

    Building mass movements to compel change is a far more successful strategy and that’s the one pursued by the left – by socialists and those who want revolutionary change. It infinitely preferable to the any excuses that lead back into the swamp of the Democrat party or Republican parties.

  5. BeccaM says:

    You have a good point, mostly. But twenty years ago, the people — including the scoundrels — who are at the pinnacle of power now were doing what? Participating in the political process. They were running for school board positions, city and county councils, mayor… We never would’ve heard of Caribou Barbie if it hadn’t entered her silly little mind to run for mayor of Wasilla and later for governor.

    America’s problem is the principles of democracy are there, but a majority don’t even bother to exercise their right to at least try to push it into a better direction. (I’m not talking about those whose votes are being suppressed, but the vast majority who can vote but don’t bother. If more of them did, the GOPers wouldn’t have the power they do now.)

    What happened back then was all those conservatives started running for the low level offices. Then they ran for state offices. Then they ran for federal offices. (One of my childhood friends even became a policy adviser in the Dubya administration, much to my chagrin.) All along, they were urging those who agreed with them to vote for them and their positions.

    What happened on the far left and also in outer libertarian-land? A great many of them decided to take a lesson from Wargames and conclude the only way to win was not to play…except politics isn’t anything like global nuclear war. There are winners and losers in politics, and even when it seems like you’re not getting to steer the ship of state the direction you feel it needs to go, at least you’re not abdicating the controls to the lunatics who are determined to sink the boat and everyone on it.

    The conservatives kept rallying their people to the polls… while the progressive left played purity games and tried to pretend that apathetically abstaining from voting was somehow an affirmative action.

    Believe me, I’m angry and dissatisfied about the “lesser of two evils” situation. But not voting isn’t going to fix it either. I want average citizens to get angry and to do something; getting angry and deliberately choosing to do nothing though is despicable, because it’s like deciding the solution to one’s house being on fire it to just stand there and let it burn down. And it’s always easier to destroy — or to stand idle and let something be destroyed — than it is to preserve or to build.

  6. BeccaM says:

    Until we all become sovereign adults and declare ourselves free from our satanic overlords and the black magic rituals

    And you call me insane? You might want to take a good, long look in the mirror, bub.

  7. mf_roe says:

    Your wrong about that inherently evil Bull Shit. When voters fail to remove poor public servants they will get worse and worse administrations. The New Deal Democrats WERE the most forceful government up until their election, they changed our system significantly. they also ushered in opportunity that would never have been offered by the Repugs.

  8. mf_roe says:

    The USSR regularly posted voting rates in the high 90’s. If the choice offered is a sham it does not do any good to vote, it actually gives the lie a false claim of legitimacy. George Carlin was explaining this very clearly as far back as the Reagan years. The fact is that there has been very little opportunity to change politics since Ronnie Raygun. Bill Clinton shredded the social safety net and empowered wall street. Obama has changed the methods of our Foreign Policy but not the ultimate direction. Obama has also failed to use the power of Presidential executive orders to reclaim our civil liberties. And his utter failure to accomplish concrete advancement in race relations will be his ultimate legacy.

  9. GregH3000 says:

    Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Government is inherently evil, even the founding fathers warned us of this fact. Until we all become sovereign adults and declare ourselves free from our satanic overlords and the black magic rituals that have you and so many others hypnotized into believing it is “adult” and “mature” to dutifully bend over for these psychopaths, we will continue to be their slaves.

    Step one is to become aware that what you are doing isn’t working. Clearly you are incapable of even getting to this state of conscious awareness, so I will leave you to your insanity.

  10. Bill_Perdue says:

    The main question left out of the debate was why HRH HRC has not yet been indicted as a war criminal.

    As for voter ‘suppression’ that’s the policy of both parties when it comes to ignoring the fundamentally anti-democratic nature of everything from the Electoral college to the refusal to include leftists in debates to ending the odious signature and financial qualifications to get on the ballot.

  11. BeccaM says:

    You just made my day. :-) ***applause***

  12. BeccaM says:

    Right, because the best way to restore a democratic republic is to drop out of the process completely. That’ll show ’em. Perhaps you can hold your breath and stomp your feet, too.

    You know what not voting does? It hands the reins of power completely over to those who do show up at the polls, which nowadays consists of the craziest of the radical conservative wingnuts. No thank you. There are plenty of countries all over the world that don’t even give the pretense of democratic elections — perhaps you’d be happier in one of those?

    Yes, things are fucked up in America right now. Your ‘solution’ will only make it worse faster, with no hope at all ever of repairing the mess.

    I’ll frame this not as a silly comic strip, but as the grandmother-aged woman I am: I find myself wanting to ask if you’re the six year old, throwing a tantrum rather than doing your civic duty. Because you know what? People like you will get exactly the government you didn’t bother to say you didn’t want, when you had the chance.

  13. GregH3000 says:

    I can’t believe that mature, adult people still put stock in either of the “one party masquerading as two” shenanigans. What are you all, six year olds? You realize this is all mind control to give you the illusion of choice, right, and that these “candidates” are all controlled by puppet masters above them? Remember that guy Obama? Hope and change? Last time I looked, Gitmo was still open.

    Let me frame this in the form of a comic strip so that you get my meaning: how many times do you have to try to kick the football Lucy is holding to realize that she isn’t going to let you kick it? PLEASE grow up and STOP VOTING.

  14. Moderator3 says:

    This poster went the way of all spammers. Sorry that it took awhile to notify our other commenters.

  15. hauksdottir says:

    Arguing with a Moderator? Continuing an abusive and irritating practice?

    Insisting that the exact same words are an answer to all posts, even slightly different ones, is like wielding a hammer on nails, screws, staples, rivets, and bolts. Words are a tool.

    The English language has a half-million words: separately or combined, they can be accurately and precisely used for an exact circumstance. Each dialogue is a distinct circumstance and requires its own framing.

    I was a Sysop on CompuServe and a Moderator at Renderosity. People who maintain forums for discussion are charged with building community. Aggravating members of that community and arguing with moderators and indicating that you will determinedly continue in this practice means either that you are not thinking about the consequences or that you do not care about what others think. It is divisive.

    Whether one post is sent to many people, or that one post is sent
    many times, does not matter. Whether you are selling a product or a point of view does not matter. You have so sufficiently spammed this site that we who read here try to avoid your posts.

  16. BeccaM says:

    You just did it again! Within the same thread, no less.

  17. mf_roe says:

    Now wash your hands, and thanks for doing a dirty, but necessary job.

  18. BeccaM says:

    Word of unasked for advice: Never argue with a site moderator.

    And you’re wrong: This same post has been posted by you many times in many different places. As have 2-3 other posts saying roughly similar things. Even the uneven line breaks are always the same. Those of us who are regulars here have seen you post this SAME comment a bunch of times.

    As for why you shouldn’t cut-and-paste? It suggests you are lazy, unoriginal and have no respect for the site on which you’re commenting nor the people congregating there.

  19. rogerclegg says:

    With all respect, the definition of spam is “irrelevant or inappropriate messages sent on the Internet to a large number of recipients.” The fact that I cut and paste from something that I have earlier written about an issue doesn’t make it “irrelevant” or “inappropriate.” Nor have I sent this to “a large number of recipients”; I’ve posted it to this particular article because I have read that article and determined that I have something to say that is germane to it. What difference does it make if I retype something rather than cut and paste it? It seems to me that it does not make what I have to say any less of interest to your readers. It’s not a commercial and it engages the issues raised by the underlying article.

  20. Moderator3 says:

    Why shouldn’t you cut and paste? You don’t want me or another moderator to handle you as a spammer.

  21. rogerclegg says:

    Well, if a new article raises the same issue again, why shouldn’t I answer it the same way? Some people may not have read the earlier article, let alone my comment on it.
    Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act, to give you the example you request, is being used to challenge some of the voter integrity measures that Republicans have passed. Sometimes these lawsuits are successful, and sometimes they aren’t, depending on the evidence. That’s the way civil-rights laws work.

  22. rogerclegg says:

    Well, if a new article raises the same issue again, why shouldn’t I answer it the same way? Some people may not have read the earlier article, let alone my comment on it.

  23. mf_roe says:

    Look up what the term “corruption” meant to the Framers. Using their language, undue weight of any group’s views is a “corruption” of the instrument of government. It goes to the concept that “Winner take All” has no place in the system we are suppose to have. If our government only serves the winners, change that government.

  24. mf_roe says:

    Time Bless You!

    Yes, the Program had some deficiencies, but on the whole it was Informative and I feel an accurate display of what each candidate brings to the table.

  25. BeccaM says:

    That’s what I want to hear. What can be done through Executive action, legislatively and, if necessary, constitutionally to undo the Citizens United ruling and to stop the outright purchasing of America’s government by corporations and billionaires. I want to hear concrete plans.

  26. BeccaM says:

    If you’re going to keep on cutting-and-pasting previous comments you’ve been spamming all over the Internet, you might at least consider editing them. Or is something original too much to ask?

    And yes, the Voting Rights Act DOES need to be restored, because the Republicans wouldn’t be passing their poll tax and voter suppression measures (aka ‘voter ID laws’) if they weren’t legal. Same with closing polling locations, cutting voting hours, and so on… and then there’s growing evidence the voting machines and tabulation servers are being systematically tampered with by mainline Republicans, too.

    There are not ‘plenty of other voting rights laws’ to ensure that every eligible voter can vote and can do so on equal footing with the Republican base — if they existed, I’d love if you would cite just one of them.

    The comparison isn’t between 2015 and 1965. It’s 2015 and 1995 or even just 2005. This country is regressing fast in terms of racial equality.

    Honestly, it’s hard to take YOU seriously.

  27. nicho says:

    The most important issue is not voting rights — although that’s important. The most important issue is getting money out of politics. Until we do that, it really doesn’t matter how many people vote. Right now, we’re seeing the results of money-dominated politics. The two candidates we will get to choose between in November 2016 will be the two candidates the corporatocracy wants us to choose between.

  28. nicho says:

    How many times do you plan on posting this same screed? You’re up to 10 or 11 by now.

  29. noGOP says:

    I missed the part about TPP.

  30. rogerclegg says:

    The Voting Rights Advancement Act that Bernie Sanders is cosponsoring is a bad bill. It’s supposed to “restore” part of the Voting Rights Act, but the Supreme
    Court struck down only one provision in the Act — which was
    indeed unconstitutional, and which was never a permanent part of the Act anyway
    — and there are plenty of other voting-rights laws available to ensure that the
    right to vote is not violated. What’s more, the VRAA contains
    much that has nothing to do with the Supreme Court’s decision; and it itself
    violates the Constitution by prohibiting practices that are not actually
    racially discriminatory but only have racially disproportionate effects.

    It’s even more extreme that an earlier bill that was introduced and has gone nowhere. The new bill would not, for example, exempt voter ID, and it would cover more jurisdictions than the earlier bill — indeed, more jurisdictions than the original Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. So we
    are to believe that there are more racist jurisdictions in 2015 than there were
    in 1965 — comprising half the country’s population. It’s hard to believe
    that the bill’s sponsors expect the bill to be taken seriously. More
    likely it is a bone being tossed to the more extreme parts of their base, who
    thought the earlier bill — though bad in the extreme — was not bad enough.

  31. Indigo says:

    It’ going to take a while to find the narrative. So far, all we’ve really heard are histrionics from the right and conventional platitudes from the center right. Voters’ rights would be a good start on an actual debate but, seriously, who thinks any of this circus is a real debate? It’s theatuh, darling, theatuh! Fact is, it isn’t even good Kabuki yet.

  32. LanceThruster says:

    Quite the omission considering the extensive ratf*cking the Rethuglicans and their cronies have been doing in this regard.

  33. Quilla says:

    For awhile there I thought the candidates were debating Anderson Cooper and almost expected him to pop the Charlie Gibson question, “Why are you not wearing an American flag pin?”

    But, all in all, they covered a lot of ground. Probably would have gotten to voter rights had Mr. Webb and Mr. Chafee stayed on the bus.

    And there’s really more than a year left of all this…?

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