If you’ve been paying attention to this year’s presidential race, you’re well aware that Republican-controlled legislatures around the country are working tirelessly to suppress voting rights for primarily Democratic constituencies—minorities, the poor, and students. Despite essentially zero evidence of voter fraud in the U.S., Republicans are pushing through these “anti-fraud” measures in order to win elections any way they can (some GOP officials have in fact admitted that the real purpose of the measures is to tilt the election).
The insanity of the U.S. voting system was laid bare for all to see in 2000, when hanging chads meant the difference in Florida; the Supreme Court ultimately handed the victory to Bush II in a brazen act of partisanship. Since then, in many ways things have only gotten worse. Because the U.S. Constitution leaves many decisions about voting rights and electoral systems to the states, we effectively have 50 different sets of voting standards and unequal rights across the country. Worse, even within given states, the discretionary power of elected officials can bend rules one party’s way or the other and make voting rights even more inequitable.
For a country that prides itself on “exceptionalism,” America is truly exceptional when it comes to making it inconvenient to vote. We treat voting more as a privilege than a right, and put up huge obstacles in many areas. This stands in sharp contrast to most democracies, which make voting as easy as possible with policies such as mandatory early voting, uniform standards, electronic registration and address changes, and holding elections on weekends; in addition, election days are often national holidays.
It would be one thing if we had uniformly bad rules that affected all groups equally; unfortunately, our chaotic mishmash has turned what should be a routine function of state and local governments into another partisan cudgel that is exploited mercilessly by Republicans. For all their talk of bringing freedom to Iraqis and Afghanistanis, the GOP will do whatever it can to make sure blacks, Latinos, and students have a hard time casting ballots.
This has got to stop.
When the Democrats had a filibuster-proof margin in the Senate in 2009, they made a huge mistake by not passing some type of voting reform that could’ve at least begun to rationalize our electoral system. Even though the Constitution forbids the Federal government from creating a one-size fits all national system, Congress has significant leeway to create rules and regulations that could push us towards a saner and fairer system. In addition, funds could’ve been allocated to modernize systems already in place and fund research on the best ways to increase voter participation. I am also pretty sure that the Congress could change Election Day to a weekend or make it a holiday; it’s a no-brainer, and shocking, that this has yet to be done.
While the GOP may rationalize voter suppression as simply one more tool for winning elections, there needs to be more shaming by the media to reverse this despicable trend. Pressure in Ohio, where the Republican Secretary of State was going to allow Republican counties longer early voting hours than Democratic counties, was ultimately not done—but only after pressure from many media sources, notably MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow.
A bumper sticker I saw the other day summed it up: if you have to suppress votes to win, your ideas suck. Republicans know that they can’t win on their policies and therefore have chosen to suppress votes instead. This is no way to run an advanced democracy (or any democracy for that matter).
Hopefully, Obama will win reelection and the Democrats can hold the Senate and perhaps regain the House. In any case, Democrats should introduce voting reforms in 2013. I don’t expect Republicans to go along, but if enough pressure and attention is brought to bear they may ultimately have no choice.