Voting Restrictions and Anti-Democratic Forces in the U.S.
The United States began as a nation with voting limited to White men 21 years or older who owned property. Many states also had religious requirements for voting up until 1810, almost twenty years after the Bill of Rights, with its “freedom of religion”, was ratified.
Taking a page from John Locke and twisting it, property requirements were mandated for voting in states up until 1850 (more than half a century after the Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791). Some say that Locke argued for unlimited accumulation of wealth, while others say that Locke promoted no more accumulation than one could use before crops spoil. Whatever the case, the universality of paper money by 1850 to store wealth eliminated the problem of spoilage and made wealth accumulation easier. Wealth was no longer measured only in property, and this helped the landless get the vote. However, voting was still only for White men.
The nation, or should I say the elites, gradually extended voting to first black men, then women, then twenty-one year olds. Congress, dominated by wealthy White men even more so than it is today, didn’t give voting rights easily. Black men received the franchise after the bloody Civil War. The vote was seen by many Northerners and a few Southerners as the best way to guarantee the newly emancipated slaves, at least the men, their freedom. It was also a right of full citizenship that slaves were granted by the 14th Amendment.
The citizenship rights of voting were not given to women until after WWI. It was hard to argue against full suffrage after women had been instrumental in the war effort by working in factories making weapons, uniforms and other tools of war. Moreover, women protesting for their right to vote had been pressuring Congress for years. Voting rights had also been given to British women two years earlier in 1918. And what was good for the British women was good enough for U.S. women in 1920.
It took another war, Vietnam, for 18 year olds to get the vote. Though some argued for voting rights for 18 year olds during WWII, it was the unpopular Vietnam War that brought this issue to the forefront. The argument was clear and unassailable: if 18 year olds were old enough and responsible enough to be drafted and fight for the nation, then they were responsible enough to vote. The 26th Amendment was rapidly ratified.
Still, there were forces in America that wanted to limit voting. Poll taxes, literacy tests, violence, intimidation and other techniques to restrict voting were commonly use in the South against Blacks after the end of brief period of post Civil War Reconstruction (1865-77). The passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a major effort to end illegal voter intimidation and laws to prevent Blacks from voting in the South. Despite the Voting Rights Act, efforts to restrict voting are still happening today.
There are several types of voter intimidation and voter nullification that are being pushed by Conservative and Tea Party activists.
One type of voter intimidation is voter roll combing, happening in minority areas of urban America, especially in “swing” states like Pennsylvania. The Nation magazine describes the technique well,
This is how it works today: In an ostensible hunt for voter fraud, a Tea Party group, True the Vote, descends on a largely minority precinct and combs the registration records for the slightest misspelling or address error. It uses this information to challenge voters at the polls, and though almost every challenge is baseless, the arguments and delays frustrate those in line and reduce turnout.
Even though there is almost no evidence of actual voter fraud, the law allows this type of voter harassment because if you move, change your address, or the name on your registration doesn’t exactly match the name on your identification, your vote can be suspended. For example, if your driver’s license says “John Q Public” but your voter registration says, “John Public” (without the Q) your voting rights can be suspended and you will have to make an appeal to have your vote count. How many of us would do that when challenged? Almost no in-person voter fraud exists in the U.S. and these techniques mainly target Democratic voters: the elderly, Blacks and Latinos, and young voters.
Even if your name isn’t on the list of suspect voters or put on suspension, the appearance of White poll watchers in your precinct can be intimidating for many Black, Latino and minority voters just as driving while the police follow you can be intimidating.
When many state voted in overwhelmingly Republican legislatures in 2010, few voted because they wanted Republicans to work to disenfranchise millions of voters by exaggerating and fabricating voter fraud, fraud that is nearly nonexistent. Nonetheless since 2010, Republican dominated legislatures have passed laws 24 laws in 17 states that would make it impossible for nearly 5 million Americans to vote. By the way, alien sightings are more common than voter fraud.
Republicans like Governor Mitt Romney have called on CEOs such as the Koch brothers to help influence how their workers vote. It’s more evidence that Republicans will do anything, even threatening people’s jobs, to get their man Romney in the White House. This kind of voter intimidation threatens people’s livelihood and should be not only illegal, but prosecuted. However, Obama’s White House is also in with the Wall Street crowd so little will be made of this intimidation whoever is elected.
While Republicans are clearly an anti-democratic force in this election, Democrats have done little since helping pass the Voting Rights act in 1965 to ensure more voting rights and democratic elections. In fact, Democrats have helped limit democracy by not working for real campaign finance reform to limit corporate money in politics, by limiting access of third parties to debates and ballots, by participating in gerrymandering that creates safe districts for both Democrats and Republicans, and by allowing or participating in the end of imperfect but important equal time and fairness laws.
If Republicans win the White House because of election fraud, Democrats are partly to blame because of their neglect of democracy and support for plutocracy. As long as corporate money and PACs dominate U.S. politics, the banks and Wall Street, insurance companies, big agribusiness, gigantic media companies and other powerful industries will be the big winners, whoever wins the White House.
Next: Limited Choices