Thursday, July 4, 2013

Vanishing Voter


I remember voting for Teddy Kennedy for President in a mock election in high school.  (It’s the only time I ever voted for a liberal…good thing it didn’t count!)  Voting is the most concrete expression of democracy.  It’s what Americans celebrate on July 4th,, Independence Day.  People across time and across the globe have shed blood for the right.  In the same week that emerging Democracies in the Middle East struggle to make it work – the pillar of freedom – shows how little it values this bedrock principal. 
 
 
The Supreme Court’s recent ruling that the nullifies Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 has been blasted as allowing racism back into the voting process.  The Voting Rights Act came of age after generations of discrimination, primarily against people of color.  (The U.S. also has an embarrassment of how long it took for women to get the vote.)   For my lifetime, then, certain geographic locations would have to petition the federal government if they wanted to change the rules on how people could register and then actually vote.  Many local jurisdictions resisted this level of oversight, especially when so much time between the discrimination occurred and current experiences.  So they sued to have the ability to change the rules without approval.  The U.S. Supreme Court said yes, you do.
The fear is that without the oversight that more restrictive rules will be put into place, making it harder to areas with minorities to get a fair shake – hence the racism charge.  Texas immediately announced new rules for voting.  They’re not alone and it’s not new.  I wrote about these concerns in November 2011:
A recent New York University School of Law analysis by the Brennan School for Justice found that new voting restrictions may impact more than 5 million votes.  63% of the electoral votes in 2012 (191 out of 270) are impacted by a change in the voting rules since the 2008. 
From the Brennan study:
·         34 states introduced legislation that would require voters to show photo identification in order to vote.  Eleven percent of American citizens do not possess a government-issued photo ID.
·         At least 13 states introduced bills to end highly popular Election Day and same-day voter registration, limit voter registration efforts, and reduce other registration opportunities.
·         At least nine states introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods, and four tried to reduce absentee voting opportunities.
The inevitable frustration that results in society is a further decline in participation.  In 2010 the voting-eligible population in the U.S. was 41.6%.  Elections are usually pretty evenly split between the major parties so some 21-22% of us actually elected leaders.   


 
 
Let’s look at current events as proof:  A few weeks ago Massachusetts elected Ed Markey to complete John Kerry’s senate term.  31% of registered voters participated.  Based on the eligible population, that means that about 18% of the people who could have voted, did. Markey won with 55% of the vote.  In real terms, then, he won 9.9% of the population he’ll be representing.   More to the point:  90% of the people voted (directly and indirectly) against Ed Markey and he's the victor. 
He’s not alone.  A minority of people have been electing political leaders for many election cycles now, including Presidents.  It’s why the impact of politics is so far removed from most people’s day to day lives – making it a vicious cycle for participation. 
Voters are vanishing not because of discrimination, but because of all the restrictions that are in place (which in some cases does also include racism and other isms).  I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again:  If we can run a trillion dollar global economy electronically, surely there’s a way to conduct an election electronically.  The easier it is for people to participate – the higher the likelihood that freedom loving, privacy hoarding independent thinking citizens might just choose their own leaders.  Then it'd be the status quo that would vanish. 
Happy Independence Day.

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