Something not all that unusual happened in Illinois politics on Monday: New Jersey governor Chris Christie showed up in Chicago to campaign for his friend, Bruce Rauner.
As something of a star in conservative circles, campaigning for other Republican gubernatorial candidates is something Christie loves to do. He showed up in Birmingham, Ala., for Republican governor Robert Bentley earlier this month. In July, he traveled to Iowa for Gov. Terry Branstad. He’s been invited to visit with Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin. And he chowed down on hot dogs with Rauner in Chicago not too long ago.
On these trips, Christie seems to have two primary goals: raise millions of dollars for Republican candidates, and blame every evil in the world on Democrats. And he’s good at both. In July, for example, he raised $2.5 million for Rauner. And on Monday he called the administration of incumbent Democrat Pat Quinn a “miserable failure”.
In his most recent visit to Chicago, however, Christie also showed something else he believes in: a fundamental disdain for the basic rules of democracy.
In his remarks, Christie suggested that a law recently passed allowing Illinois residents to register to vote and cast a ballot on the same day was nothing more than a partisan effort designed to make it harder for voters to elect Republican Rauner in the November elections.
“He will try every trick in the book,” Christie said of Quinn. “I see the stuff that’s going on. Same-day registration all of a sudden this year comes to Illinois. Shocking,” he added sarcastically. “I’m sure it was all based upon public policy, good public policy to get same-day registration here in Illinois just this year, when the governor is in the toilet and needs as much help as he can get.”
He also took issue with recent court rulings allowing Libertarian Party candidates but not Green Party or Constitution Party candidates on the November ballot.
“Now I see that the court’s ruled that the Libertarian candidate can be on the ticket but the Green Party can’t. Another interesting development. … Every obstacle that can be placed in front of Bruce by the establishment in this state will be placed in front of him.
In stumping for Rauner, Christie is engaging in a long-held belief among Republicans that any attempts to expand the pool of eligible voters anywhere is basically an effort to tip the electoral scales on behalf of Democrats. To back up this argument, Republicans regularly rely on unproven claims of voter fraud in their attempts to block states' efforts to expand voter registration.
It’s a battle that’s being played out in state after state. Activists in North Carolina are fighting back against the nation’s most restrictive voting laws, passed by Republicans there last year. Recently expanded voter registrations laws are under attack by Republicans in Montana. The Colorado GOP wants to undo a new elections law that allows same-day registration. Republicans in Nevada have made opposition to same-day registration part of their platform.
In all, nine states have passed measures of one kind or another making it harder to vote since the beginning of 2013.
Right here in Illinois, however, the tide appears to be turning. Besides the recently-enacted law making it easier to register, vote while at college and cast an early ballot, a number of pro-democracy groups are working to expand the pool of eligible voters in advance of both the November state-wide elections and the 2015 Chicago municipal races.
Recently, the Grassroots Collaborative announced it has registered more than 25,000 new voters this year, which is halfway to their goal of 50,000. Other groups, such as Chicago Votes, Common Cause Illinois, the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and others are actively engaged in efforts to get more voters active and involved.
That’s because same-day voter registration works. Study after study shows states that allow same-day voter registration had higher turnout than states that do not. Four of the top five states for voter turnout in the 2012 presidential election all offered same-day registration, while average voter turnout is over 10 percentage points higher in states that allow the practice.
You can’t tell any of that to Chris Christie, though. In his world, any new voter brought into the process of democracy must be a Democrat and nothing more than a political “trick”. While Christie may think such an argument might help Bruce Rauner politically down the road, it's a stance that’s so opposed to the basic rules of democracy that even Rauner, to his credit, has rejected it.
That’s saying something. Maybe the next time Christie comes to town, he can check with the candidate he’s supporting to make sure they've got their stories straight on whether basic democracy is a good idea or not.