Thursday, August 20, 2015

Democracy: One person, one vote?

One of the most enduring myths of the United States holds that we have a democracy.  An actual democracy has all eligible citizens voting on all issues, which we can admit as not practical for countries larger than ancient Athens.

Since we vote in these United States for people to represent us in our state and federal legislatures, we can more accurately call our government a republic based on voting by individuals.

Nevertheless, as Supreme Justice and judicial crank Antonin Scalia noted in oral arguments on Bush vs Gore, the case the conservative Supreme Court justices would have us all forget, the right to vote does not appear in the Constitution we have.  Mr. Scalia, who acts and writes as as strict constructionist basing his rulings on the literal text of the Constitution--when it suits his needs as a regressive, conservative, wannabe segregationist slave owner--ignores his own jurisprudence and issues expansive opinions when for instance he issued an opinion interfering in counting of actual votes in Florida in 2000.

Instead of rehashing the past, however, let us note now our right to vote lays under siege by Republican dominated state legislatures in the name of stopping the negligible, statistically insignificant cases of voter fraud.

Nonetheless, we should never forget, first, that even if we define democracy simply as universal adult suffrage, the United States has only recently come close to living up to its proclaimed purpose of serving as history’s grand democratic experiment; and second, that even when the right to vote itself has finally been won, it does not mean it has been fully secured.
Enfranchisement has neither prevented ruling elites from continuing to exploit and oppress, nor kept them from turning things around and effectively stripping fellow citizens of their hard-won rights—including the right to vote itself.
The post-Civil War Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granting African-American men the right to vote states very clearly:  Section 1: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. Section 2: The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation. ­  And yet, as President Franklin Roosevelt himself was to observe in the 1930s: “New laws, in themselves, do not bring a millennium.” And he might well have added that not even constitutional amendments necessarily do.... 
In Give Us The Ballot, Nation magazine political correspondent Ari Berman has written an extremely valuable and terribly timely history of the Voting Rights Act (VRA).  Terribly timely not just because this year marks the 50th anniversary of the enactment and signing into law of the VRA (August 6, 1965), but all the more so because the VRA and the right to vote are not just under continuing attack but actually under siege. 
Under the ruse of preventing “voter fraud,” Republican-controlled state legislatures across the country have enacted laws clearly intended to make it more difficult for minority, poor, and young Americans to actually exercise their right to vote. (emphasis added)
For one particularly egregious incidence, a state legislature banned college identification cards with photos as proper id for voting but allows National Rifle Association id for voting purposes, obviously aimed at suppressing votes by the young: people who lean towards progressive policies.  Mother Jones has an excellent piece on voter suppression measures passed or pending in 22 states, all in the name of preventing nearly non-existent voter fraud.

So we must fight for the right to vote, for the most basic cornerstone of our representative democracy, for the rights of all eligible voters.

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