Voter Suppression in the United States

January 10, 2018

President Trump has dissolved his Voter Fraud Commission.  Usefully, Steve Almond of Cognoscenti makes this call:  It’s Time For Democrats To Investigate Voter Suppression. 

He’s right.  too few Americans have a real opportunity to vote.  And that isn’t just by chance.  It’s a result of deliberate efforts to make it difficult for some Americans (poor, non-white, more transient Americans, mostly) to register and vote.  We need to identify and remove those obstacles.

He lifts up this nugget:

About 55.7% of the U.S. voting-age population cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election. In the OECD, the U.S. placed 28th in voter turnout, compared with an OECD average of 75%.  Registered voters represent a much smaller share of potential voters in the U.S. than just about any other OECD country. Only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered in 2016, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014).

That’s from a bracing report by Phillip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights*, who made a recent official visit to the United States.  The whole report is worth reading.  It’s not too long and it will give you valuable perspective on the United States of America today.

There’s a good deal about the general state (and causes) of poverty in the United States, but Alston also says this about the state of democracy in the United States today:

The foundation stone of American society is democracy, but it is being steadily undermined.  The principle of one person one vote applies in theory, but it is far from the reality.  In a democracy, the task of government should be to facilitate political participation by ensuring that all citizens can vote and that their votes will count equally.  In the US there is overt disenfranchisement of vast numbers of felons, a rule which predominantly affects Black citizens since they are the ones whose conduct is often specifically targeted for criminalization.  In addition, there are often requirement that persons who have paid their debt to society still cannot regain their right to vote until they paid off all outstanding fines and fees.  Then there is covert disenfranchisement, which includes the dramatic gerrymandering of electoral districts to privilege particular groups of voters, the imposition of artificial and unnecessary voter ID requirements, the blatant manipulation of polling station locations, the relocating of DMVs to make it more difficult for certain groups to obtain IDs, and the general ramping up of obstacles to voting especially by those without resources. The net result is that people living in poverty, minorities, and other disfavored groups are being systematically deprived of their voting rights.

Repeat: “people living in poverty, minorities, and other disfavored groups are being systematically deprived of their voting rights.”

I want to add a coda on the dissolution of the Voter Fraud Commission.  Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap either caused or hastened the demise of the Commission by (!) insisting that he be treated as full and equal member of the Commission.  He had sued in federal court for timely notice of meetings and access to all materials, and he won a judgment affirming that.  Shortly after, the Commission was dissolved.

It won’t disappear, however.  Its agenda will now move to the Department of Homeland Security, a federal agency wholly under the control of the Trump administration.  Dunlap’s request for Commission materials was then denied by the Department of Justice.  Why? Because DOJ said that with the Commission’s dissolution, its materials were no longer public records.  (Baloney!)  Dunlap has said he will persevere.  We should all cheer him on.


About Doug Bennett

Doug Bennett is Emeritus President and Professor of Politics at Earlham College. He has a wife, Ellen, and two sons, Tommy (born 1984) and Robbie (born 2003).
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