It would be fair to state that our Founders were not exactly egalitarian democrats, at least in terms of how we define democracy today. Yes, they wrote the Constitution that begins with the seemingly all-inclusive phrase “We the people” and signed the Declaration of Independence that proclaims that “all men are created equal.”
Great sounding statements, but in practice they fell short because “the people” and “all men” really meant white, male, property-owning (middle class or above), that reached 21 years of age. In addition, it is baffling that the early Americans saw fit to demand certain rights—speech, assembly, press, bearing arms, no unusual punishments—were inscribed in the Bill of Rights but didn’t insist the most essential right—to vote—be listed. Perhaps that was due to them considering the right to vote a given.
In a participatory democracy that serves as the underpinning for representative government, franchise—the power to vote for one’s leaders—is the most effective and powerful way to elect a government that is responsive to its citizens’ needs. Initially it seems incredulous but isn’t when one considers the founding from another perspective: replacing a monarchy with a controlled democracy that rested power in the financial elites, which gave way to the corporate state.
If one considers it in terms of how it affected the way in which the people were governed, the American Revolution was subtle; the French Revolution in which the head of Louis XVI was lopped off was anything but. Nevertheless, the seeds of true democracy were sown, and our history since then has been a chipping-away process of ever-increasing voter participation.
Until the election of Barack Obama. Go figure.
In 2009, a switch was flipped and regression began. And 50 years after the enactment of the Voting Rights Act, we are regressing with regard to making sure every citizen votes.
According the Brennan Center for Justice, which tracks voter access, 21 states since 2010 have enacted laws making it harder to vote. They range from photo ID requirements and early voting cutbacks to registration restrictions. Fifteen of those states will have them in place for the first time for the 2016 presidential election, including three purple or swing states: Ohio, Virginia, and Florida.
Compounding that, the center says that “as the early stages of the 2016 presidential race begin, state legislatures are already considering hundreds of laws that could determine voters’ access to the ballot. Since the beginning of the 2015 legislative session, and as of May 13, 2015, at least 113 bills that would restrict access to registration and voting have been introduced or carried over in 33 states.”
That ought to be shocking but suppressing the vote has become a standard practice for Republican dominated states, much as it was in the South during the Civil Rights era. The reason the implementers put forth is to avoid voter fraud. The problem is there no evidence substantiating that argument.
Suppressing the vote comes down to partisan advantage, just like gerrymandering and financing campaigns. The election of Obama shocked the Republican establishment and set it on a course to overturn the outcome of the 2008 election that was reiterated in 2012 with Obama’s reelection. Since then, it has been a full-court press to institutionalize Republican dominance on a variety of fronts including voter suppression targeted at minorities that tend to vote Democratic.
Over the course of our history, three amendments to the Constitution insured the right to vote would not be denied due to race, gender, or age, which means every American that has reached 18 years of age is entitled to vote. We have come to believe that voting is an inherent right that comes with birth or when one takes the oath of citizenship despite it being not listed or referred to in the original Constitution.
Given that, any artificial mechanism or ploy that interferes with one’s ability to cast his/her vote—e.g., restricting the days and times to vote, requiring ID’s at the polls, and making access to polling places grossly inconvenient—ought to be considered not only unconstitutional but also ethically repugnant to every American.
Unless you’re one who believes that it’s okay to trample on others’ rights as long as yours are not trampled on. I guess then that makes sense.