Donald Trump wasn't the only disaster for Democrats in 2016.
Despite a favorable U.S. Senate map--Republicans were defending twenty-four seats compared to the Democrats' ten--and what was supposed to be a negative Trump effect on down-ballot races, the Democrats gained a measly two seats, not enough to regain the majority. They took back just six seats in the House of Representatives, where the GOP retains a forty-seven-seat advantage. At the state level, Republicans won three new governorships, pushing their total to thirty-three, the most since 1922. They now control both houses of thirty-two state legislatures, also a modern record.
If 2016 was a train wreck for Democrats, the 2018 midterms could herald an electoral version of nuclear winter. Democrats must defend twenty-five U.S. Senate seats in 2018; the Republicans, only eight. The last two midterms have been disastrous for House Democrats, who lost sixty-three seats in 2010 and thirteen more in 2014. More state legislative losses in 2018 could dig a hole so deep that even a 2020 Democratic "wave election" could still leave Republicans in control of most states' 2021 congressional and state legislative redistricting efforts.
Meanwhile, a Jeff Sessions-led Department of Justice, abetted by a conservative Supreme Court majority, will likely go from fighting voter suppression efforts to defending and even advocating them--using the myth of voter fraud as a pretext to make it ever harder for minorities and young people to vote.
There's a reason Republicans focus so much on making it hard to cast a ballot: they know they generally do better when fewer people vote. Indeed, for all the talk of how the Democrats need to rethink their message, the simple fact is that their biggest problem is low turnout. Even in the 2016 presidential year, sixty-four million registered voters didn't show up. The problem is far worse in midterm elections, the real killing fields for Democrats' dreams in recent years. In 2014, 57 percent of all registered voters--almost 110 million people--sat out the election. The ones who did show up were disproportionately white and older--and voted heavily Republican.
Democrats and their progressive allies have no choice but to keep resisting voter ID laws and polling place closures. Wherever possible, they should also push such important reforms as automatic voter registration. But the first strategy is simply playing defense, and the second is relatively small-ball offense. Far more important, both for Democrats and for the basic health of our democracy, is to finally go on the attack with a much bolder strategy. It's time to get serious about eliminating the most powerful and ubiquitous voter suppression device of all: the traditional polling place.
Implementing "vote from home"--also known as universal vote by mail--is the most promising way to significantly increase voter turnout, especially among young people and minorities. Three states--Colorado, Oregon, and Washington--already have vote from home election systems. Here's how it works: instead of requiring voters to cast ballots at official polling places or apply in advance for absentee ballots, these states mail ballots to all registered voters at their homes. Voters then have about two weeks to fill out their ballots and either mail them back or deliver them personally to any one of hundreds of official ballot drop sites located strategically across their states--in, for example, schools, libraries, police and fire stations, and post offices, and at secure, free-standing metal boxes that are available twenty-four hours a day. For security, election officials match the signature on every ballot with the one on the voter's...