February 19, 2016
With primary and caucus season in full swing, and the general election looming on the horizon, we’re constantly being asked for our vote. Everybody wants our vote, your vote, all the votes. Because in a democracy, we vote for our leaders. That’s how it works.
People + Power = Democracy
Sure. But what is a democracy? Sometimes it helps to start with a definition.
Democracy means government by the people. It comes from the Greek, demos + kratia. People + power.
So when we vote, we are engaging in a democratic act, an act that defines our form of government. Of, by, and for the people, Lincoln said. Although this system, in practice, has certainly had some glaring flaws (the fact that women and African Americans weren’t allowed to vote jumps to mind), it’s a concept we ought to be proud of.
Lincoln, of course, didn’t anticipate the 24-hour cable-news cycle, Twitter rants, excruciating Facebook debates, and nonstop television ads, but his main point still holds: Voters are the ones in charge.
Funny thing about that, though: Turns out that some politicians—however many hands they shake in diners or babies they kiss at rallies—would prefer the kratia without the demos.
Yes, it runs contrary to everything you were taught in high school about the glories of democracy, but these politicians would like to see fewer, not more, people turning out to vote. The more people lining up at the polls, the more worried they get.
Well, perhaps we should clarify. It’s not that they want everyone to stay home on election day. Really, it’s just certain people. So now you’re probably asking yourself, “How do I know if I’m someone these corporate-funded, pro-mega-business, dark-money-bankrolled politicians want to keep away from the ballot box?” Great question. We’re here to help.
Signs They May Not Want You to Vote:
1. YOU ARE A RACIAL MINORITY
A recent study of voter-suppression legislation between 2006 and 2011 found that keeping African Americans, Hispanics and other minority groups away from the polls was a major factor behind such legislation. They wrote that states where African Americans and other minorities turn out to vote in increasing numbers are more likely to pass legislation that attempts to restrict voting than are states where that isn’t the case.
Most of these laws are promoted by politicians who speak passionately about wanting to prevent voter fraud. But the truth is that such fraud happens so infrequently as to be all but nonexistent. So what’s really going on? As it turns out, minority voters simply do not, by significant margins, support the priorities promoted by these fat-cat politicians and their ultra-wealthy funders.
2. YOU ARE A LOWER-INCOME PERSON
Voter ID laws are proliferating across the country. At first blush, doesn’t it make sense to have everyone properly identify him- or herself at a polling station? ID is required for all sorts of transactions today, everything from boarding a plane to buying alcohol. So, what’s the big deal? While many of us may not find these requirements too onerous, a nation’s health, or a policy’s success, can’t be based on how well the affluent or comfortable are doing. We have to make sure that the poorest among us have access and opportunity, too. And that's what many voter-ID-law supporters appear to forget.
Now that 36 states have passed some form of voter-ID legislation, it’s becoming clear that not all voters are equally able to obtain ID cards. A study produced by NYU’s Brennan Center states that many eligible voters do not have access to a car and live more than 10 miles from the nearest ID-issuing office. Many live in rural areas with few transportation options. Millions of such voters live below the poverty line and have trouble paying the fees associated with acquiring IDs.
The groups who are significantly less likely to have a valid ID are pretty wide-ranging, including low-income people, racial minorities, young people, and senior citizens. Of course, by some freaky coincidence, those same people happen to be more likely to vote against candidates who support pro-corporate policies. At this point, you’re likely beginning to understand the story of our two-pronged voter turnout problem.
3. YOU ARE A WEALTHY OLDER WHITE PERSON
Nah, just kidding! Politicians from the private-jet set LOVE it when wealthy older white people vote. Sadly for them, but fortunately for those who prefer their democracy powered by a sense of justice, fairness and equality, turnout among minority voters continues to increase in some states despite all the tactics employed to keep that very thing from happening. As minority populations rise around the country, such dishonest, dirty and clearly desperate political maneuvering will become even less effective.
What Can We Do?
No one should be excluded from voting because of where they live, what policies they support, what they look like, or how much money they have. A democracy where citizens cannot freely and easily exercise their right to vote is no democracy at all. Here are a few things we can do to ensure that this government of, by and for the people stays that way.
- The Voting Rights Act (VRA) was passed in 1965 to address voter disenfranchisement among African Americans, particularly in southern states, and it was working really well until the Supreme Court struck down portions of it in 2013. We need to push for the restoration of the VRA and an end to restrictive voting laws.
- Automatic Voter Registration is a reform that would automatically register eligible citizens with a driver’s license to vote.
Democracy only works when it works for everyone.
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