Voting In America

The New York Times has started a series on voting in America, which will run up to Election Day in November.  I thought the first part of the series, originally published on 10 March 2018, was worth sharing with you.  It is a bit lengthier than my average post, but there are points here that I think we all need to consider as we head into the midterms.  Please take a few moments to read and think about these things.


Vote. That’s Just What They Don’t Want You to Do.

This is a fragile moment for the nation. The integrity of democratic institutions is under assault from without and within, and basic standards of honesty and decency in public life are corroding. If you are horrified at what is happening in Washington and in many states, you can march in the streets, you can go to town halls and demand more from your representatives, you can share the latest outrageous news on your social media feed — all worthwhile activities. But none of it matters if you don’t go out and vote.

It’s a perennial conundrum for the world’s oldest democracy: Why do so many Americans fail to go to the polls? Some abstainers think that they’re registering a protest against the awful choices. They’re fooling themselves. Nonvoters aren’t protesting anything; they’re just putting their lives and futures in the hands of the people who probably don’t want them to vote. We’ve seen recently what can happen when people choose instead to take their protest to the ballot box. We saw it in Virginia in November. We saw it, to our astonishment, in Alabama in December. We may see it this week in western Pennsylvania. Voting matters.

Casting a ballot is the best opportunity most of us will ever get to have a say in who will represent us, what issues they will address and how they will spend our money. The right to vote is so basic, President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965, that without it “all others are meaningless.”

And yet every election, tens of millions of Americans stay home. Studies of turnout among developed nations consistently rank the United States near the bottom. In the most recent midterms, in 2014, less than 37 percent of eligible voters went to the polls — the lowest turnout in more than 70 years. In 2016,

The problem isn’t just apathy, of course. Keeping people from voting has been an American tradition from the nation’s earliest days, when the franchise was restricted to white male landowners. It took a civil war, constitutional amendments, violently suppressed activism against discrimination and a federal act enforcing the guarantees of those amendments to extend this basic right to every adult. With each expansion of voting rights, the nation inched closer to being a truly representative democracy. Today, only one group of Americans may be legally barred from voting — those with felony records, a cruel and pointless restriction that disproportionately silences people of color.

In the months leading up to the midterm elections on Nov. 6, when the House, Senate and statehouses around the country are up for grabs, the editorial board will explore the complicated question of why Americans don’t vote, and what can be done to overcome the problem. The explanations fall into three broad categories.

SUPPRESSION

A 96-year-old woman in Tennessee was denied a voter-ID card despite presenting four forms of identification, including her birth certificate. A World War II veteran was turned away in Ohio because his Department of Veterans Affairs photo ID didn’t include his address. Andrea Anthony, a 37-year-old black woman from Wisconsin who had voted in every major election since she was 18, couldn’t vote in 2016 because she had lost her driver’s license a few days before.

Stories like these are distressingly familiar, as more and more states pass laws that make voting harder for certain groups of voters, usually minorities, but also poor people, students and the elderly. They require forms of photo identification that minorities are much less likely to have or be able to get — purportedly to reduce fraud, of which there is virtually no evidence. They eliminate same-day registration, close polling stations in minority areas and cut back early-voting hours and Sunday voting.

These new laws may not be as explicitly discriminatory as the poll taxes or literacy tests of the 20th century, but they are part of the same long-term project to keep minorities from the ballot box. And because African-Americans vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, the laws are nearly always passed by Republican-dominated legislatures.

In a lawsuit challenging Wisconsin’s strict new voter-ID law, a former staff member for a Republican lawmaker testified that Republicans were “politically frothing at the mouth” at the prospect that the law would drive down Democratic turnout. It worked: After the 2016 election, one survey found that the law prevented possibly more than 17,000 registered voters, disproportionately poor and minority, from voting. Donald Trump carried the state by fewer than 23,000 votes.

FAILING TECHNOLOGY

The legitimacy of an election is only as good as the reliability of the machines that count the votes. And yet 43 states use voting machines that are no longer being made, and are at or near the end of their useful life. Many states still manage their voter-registration rolls using software programs from the 1990s. It’s no surprise that this sort of infrastructure failure hits poorer and minority areas harder, often creating hourslong lines at the polls and discouraging many voters from coming out at all. Upgrading these machines nationwide would cost at least $1 billion, maybe much more, and Congress has consistently failed to provide anything close to sufficient funding to speed along the process.

Elections are hard to run with aging voting technology, but at least those problems aren’t intentional. Hacking and other types of interference are. In 2016, Russian hackers were able to breach voter registration systems in Illinois and several other states, and targeted dozens more. They are interfering again in advance of the 2018 midterms, according to intelligence officials, who are demanding better cybersecurity measures. These include conducting regular threat assessments, using voting machines that create paper trails and conducting postelection audits. Yet President Trump, who sees any invocation of Russian interference as a challenge to the legitimacy of his election, consistently downplays or dismisses these threats. Meanwhile, Mr. Trump’s State Department has not spent a dime of the $120 million Congress allocated to it to fight disinformation campaigns by Russia and other countries.

DISILLUSIONMENT

Some people wouldn’t vote if you put a ballot box in their living room. Whether they believe there is no meaningful difference between the major parties or that the government doesn’t care what they think regardless of who is in power, they have detached themselves from the political process.

That attitude is encouraged by many in government, up to and including the current president, who cynically foster feelings of disillusionment by hawking fake tales of rigged systems and illegal voters, even as they raise millions of dollars from wealthy donors and draw legislative maps to entrench their power.

The disillusionment is understandable, and to some degree it’s justified. But it creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. When large numbers of people don’t vote, elections are indeed decided by narrow, unrepresentative groups and in the interests of wealth and power. The public can then say, See? We were right. They don’t care about us. But when more people vote, the winning candidates are more broadly representative and that improves government responsiveness to the public and enhances democratic legitimacy.

These obstacles to voting and political participation are very real, and we don’t discount their impact on turnout. The good news is there are fixes for all of them.

The most important and straightforward fix is to make it easier for people to register and vote. Automatic voter registration, which first passed in Oregon just three years ago, is now the law or practice in nine states, both red and blue, and the District of Columbia. Washington State is on the cusp of becoming the tenth, and New Jersey and Nevada may be close behind. More people also turn out when states increase voting opportunities, such as by providing mail-in ballots or by expanding voting hours and days.

The courts should be a bulwark protecting voting rights, and many lower federal courts have been just that in recent years, blocking the most egregious attacks on voting in states from North Carolina to Wisconsin. But the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. has made this task much harder, mainly by gutting a key provision of the Voting Rights Act in a 2013 case. Decisions like that one, which split 5 to 4, depend heavily on who is sitting in those nine seats — yet another reason people should care who gets elected.

In the end, the biggest obstacle to more Americans voting is their own sense of powerlessness. It’s true: Voting is a profound act of faith, a belief that even if your voice can’t change policy on its own, it makes a difference. Consider the attitude of Andrea Anthony, the Wisconsin woman who was deterred by the state’s harsh new voter-ID law after voting her whole adult life. “Voting is important to me because I know I have a little, teeny, tiny voice, but that is a way for it to be heard,” Ms. Anthony said. “Even though it’s one vote, I feel it needs to count.”

She’s right. The future of America is in your hands. More people voting would not only mean “different political parties with different platforms and different candidates,” the writer Rebecca Solnit said. “It would change the story. It would change who gets to tell the story.”

There are a lot of stories desperately needing to be told right now, but they won’t be as long as millions of Americans continue to sit out elections. Lament the state of the nation as much as you want. Then get out and vote.

98 thoughts on “Voting In America

    • Thursday? Seriously? I had no idea. Most of the EU nations vote on Sunday, so I just assumed … er, well, that’ll teach me to lump you guys in with the EU! 😉 And yes, I fully agree that everyone who can vote, should. But then, I also have to agree with Hugh’s earlier comment, that people need to be well enough educated to at least understand what they are voting for! Obviously, in 2016, that was not always the case!

      Liked by 1 person

      • The problem is with negative campaigning. During the disaster…sorry referendum over Brexit, the government blew it by going overboard with its ‘If we leave the EU you will have to sell your first born to the Chinese, and everyone over the age of 65 will be shipped into care homes located close to pet food factories’ style.
        True it works with the smearing and plays to the dedicated but it turns off a lot of ‘lazy’ voters who then think its cool not to vote.

        Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, John! I appreciate it! It’s time to start motivating people to get out and vote in November. I still wish we could trick the republicans into believing the date was on the 7th so they would all stay home on election day 😀

      Liked by 2 people

        • You guys have the same problem? I didn’t know. What are your thoughts on mandatory voting? I like the idea, but my friend Andrea tells me there has been only limited success with it in Oz. Yes, it makes me angry, too, especially when those who didn’t vote, later whine and cry about the ‘corrupt’ government. It’s rather like being too lazy to walk to the kitchen for a bottle of water, and then later whining about being thirsty! The non-voters expect the rest of us to do all the work for them!

          Liked by 1 person

          • I grew up in Australia. So I’m fine with mandatory voting.

            Full disclosure — I only participated in mandatory voting for one election, before coming to the USA (as a grad student).

            The fine for not voting is small. You are only required to show up. If you show up, and hand in a spoiled ballot (voting for nobody, for example), then you have met the mandatory voting requirement without actually voting. But it does tend to remind people of their civic duty to vote.

            Liked by 1 person

            • Yes, I’m sure that some would turn in a blank ballot, considering it their way of protesting, but I think that for the majority of non-voters, if forced to go anyway, then they would vote. The next problem, of course, is whether they would vote based on knowledge of the issues and the candidates platforms, or on what they read on Facebook. Sigh. Other things I think would help are extended early voting days, and absentee voting. Unfortunately, many states are going in the opposite direction.

              Liked by 1 person

          • You’re exactly right. I often told my history and civics classes that if you don’t vote you have no right to criticize or complain about the government. We’re lucky yo get 70% turnout for a federal election. Provincial turnouts are more like 50% and Municipal elections draw about 25-30% turnout. I don’t know about mandatory voting – I’m sure that folks who are forced to vote won’t bother to be informed voters. Hugs!

            Liked by 1 person

            • You are probably right about forced voters not being informed ones … Hugh and I had that discussion earlier. But there must surely be some way to motivate voters. I was appalled in 2016 at the number of African-Americans who didn’t bother to vote, given that Trump had put them down throughout his campaign. I don’t know what the answer is … I suspect there is no panacea, but the solution must be multi-faceted.

              Liked by 1 person

              • According to the panelists on that Bernie Sanders Townhall program, these non-voters have to be lured back by a candidate that they feel are worth voting for. A Black friend of mine in the South told me that the Blacks stayed away in droves because they felt they had no one to vote for. It would seem that the answer lies in the quality of the candidates. I’ve been seeing TV ads about a man running for Governor in NY – a person who seems to be from the Middle East. He’s running on a shoe-string budget with zero corporate donors. He has a different name and the ad had him poking fun at himself trying to teach people on the street how to say his name. Bottom line in my opinion is that citizens will vote for quality candidates.

                Liked by 3 people

                • There is much truth to what you say … that voters must be lured back by a worthy candidate. While I believed that Hillary Clinton had the right mindset, the right values to do the job, the truth was that she was such an unpopular candidate that many either stayed home, or voted for Trump simply because they could not bring themselves to vote for Hillary. My concern is that I still don’t see a truly viable candidate in the wings for 2020. Joe Biden … I think would be great, but my concern is his age. Same is true of Bernie Sanders.

                  Liked by 2 people

                  • Trump is the same age as Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. If Bernie was successful in 2020, I fear he’d be shot. If you look at the assassinations of the 60s, Republicans were not among the victims. Bernie Sanders, as you know, is a tireless worker and a determined man who would set to work to make things right in America from day one of his presidency. The alt-right haters that Trump has enabled will not take that kind of change sitting down. That’s my fear.

                    Liked by 2 people

                    • Yes, isn’t is odd that the ones who have a conscience, who are trying to work toward the good of the nation as a whole, rather than a small group of elites, are the ones that get shot? And yet nobody seems to entertain the notion of killing Trump. Actually, though, my cruel streak has come up with a better idea than killing him anyway! Ever hear of Lorena Bobbitt? 😈

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • Given his reputation of being a womanizer, and his narcissistic bragging of his ‘conquests’ … can you imagine what it would do to his ego to have to live out the rest of his life without any … operational equipment??? I think that for him, it would be a fate worse than death, and especially if the world knew of his fate and was laughing at him!

                      Liked by 1 person

    • I would respectfully disagree with you on this one. What a difference you might make if you did vote, eh? But I won’t argue the point, except to say that you are giving up your only chance to make a difference. I, by the way, did not vote for the snake. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

          • What the heck are you waiting for, dear Roger??? I just sent you an email, if that’s what you’re waiting for. If you are waiting for Santa Claus, you have approximately 275 days left to wait. And if you are waiting for your socks to get dry, you need to put them into the dryer first! 😀

            Liked by 3 people

            • Oh I was waiting for that guy to reply to my response to his admission that in part he is responsible for Trump being president.
              They never reply to me….
              Do you think it’s something I said?🤔.
              I never put my socks in the dryer, they shrink!
              Meanwhile M’am ah’ll be high-tailing off to mah e-mails!

              Liked by 3 people

                    • Roger! Go for a nice long walk … don’t you know the expression “a watched pot never boils”? Put on your coat and snow boots and go for a walk in the woods! Or on the sidewalk on your street! You need fresh air! 😀

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • I knew you were messin’, but still thought some fresh air might do you good. 😎 Um, Roger? My gardening skills are no better than yours, and in fact my neighbor won’t even let me touch the flowers she plants in my yard for me every spring, for I would likely kill them. BUT … one thing I do know is that planting bits of wood in your garden will not result in trees sprouting up in the spring. For trees, you must plant seeds. Planting wood will likely only result in termites. 🐞 Or worms. 🐛

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • There are no termites in Wales? How strange. 😲 Well, I hope your esoteric wood project comes out gorgeous! Just don’t toss a cigarette down in the back yard! But then, since you don’t smoke, you likely wouldn’t … 😀

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • I used to, then back in 1982 along came our son Ashley (it’s a boy’s name in the UK!), and there was no money for ‘ciggies’…End of story.
                      ……
                      Argh! Durn it! Thatcher was responsible for a Good Health choice!
                      Will this curse of speaking well of Conservatives ne’re leave my fevered mind free! 😖

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Ashley is sometimes a boy’s name here, too … it’s one of those names that can be either. And yep … I’m glad you put diapers and baby formula above smokes! I’m sure Sheila is glad, too!

                      At the rate you’re going here, you’ll soon be sporting a Thatcher bumper sticker on your car and have a picture of her prominently displayed in your … bathroom? 😄

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Bleech!
                      On my 40th birthday my team got me a signed photo of ‘her’ and presented it to me in front of the entire office!
                      I did keep it until the week our house of repossessed for failure to keep up the mortgage payments. It was stamped on, torn up and thrown in the bin….Felt a lot better afterwards….
                      Still when she ascended from this mortal coil, we did both same ‘Aww, bless her’….then spent the next two weeks hurling abuse at the tv whenever anyone came on to speak well of her…..

                      Liked by 2 people

                    • Oh my!!! I cannot imagine how you kept a smile on your face and thanked your team for the “gift”! And I am amazed you kept it as long as you did.

                      I am so sorry about your house … I know it’s been a long time, but still … made me so sad. My friend Herb went through the same during the financial crisis of 2008 and it led to the breakup of his marriage (granted, his drinking didn’t help). I’m glad you and Sheila survived intact. I’m also glad you didn’t destroy the television by throwing rocks through the screen!

                      Hugs to you and your wonderful wife!

                      Liked by 1 person

                    • We are a stubborn pair. Tend to have a Ffffff-udge You attitude to the world when things get really crappy.
                      Sheila throws balls of paper at the TV screen, I consign people to the nether regions ‘down below’.
                      Hugs back!
                      From us both

                      Liked by 1 person

        • I can deal with and (unless rabid racists) can have a measure of empathy with folk on The Right, they have their views and beliefs.
          I have no time for those who do not vote because they, in their arrogance think they know all that is to know about politics by simply decrying everyone who runs for office. This lazy façade of cynicism shows a complete lack of any mature comprehension as to how a society works. They are content for others to do the hard work for them.
          I note there was no response to my response.
          I am still waiting

          Liked by 2 people

          • Agreed, for those who failed to vote to then claim that none of this is their fault is incorrect, for what difference might they have made if they had participated? If those who stayed home on 08 November 2016 had voted, we would now be referring to President Clinton, rather than Bozo.

            Liked by 2 people

        • Kenneth sometimes in life you have to make choices that are not the pleasing to make. The last presidential election for me was one. I did not prefer either major party candidate as my first choice. However no matter what happened either tRump or Clinton was going to be president. I looked at which one was closer in policies to what I valued. That one happened to be Hillary. If you voted for any one else other than the two major party candidates you not only threw your vote away but elected the least welcome of the two. My point if you voted third party or did not vote, you voted against Hillary and your vote was basically a positive for tRump.
          As adults we sometimes have to grit our teeth and do things we don’t want to do. Our actions do have consequence, especially in civil society and political arenas. I think Barack Obama once said “Don’t let the perfect become the enemy of the good”. In other words we may not get it perfect the first time, we may not get the whole thing we want, but if we can get most of what we want, we should take it. Best wishes to you. Hugs

          Liked by 3 people

  1. I was just sadly reading that North Carolina,previously a good State with school integration is heading back to the bad old day of segregation. Whilst I’m sure that this is as a result of Cruella de Ville I mean Betsy de Vos it’s going to take people getting to the polls to put a stop to it since maybe the loaded High Courts may not do so for some time. An election can swing on one vote, make it yours.
    Cwtch.

    Liked by 3 people

    • With everything else in the news, I had actually missed that one, so when I saw your comment I went in search of. From what I read, this has been taking place over the course of the past 10 years, though no doubt with her love of charter schools, which are discriminatory in themselves, Betsy DeVos will exacerbate the situation. I will dig into it a bit more tomorrow. Meanwhile, yes, we all need to be shouting from the rooftops for people to get out there and vote to get these boot-licking buffoons out of the Capitol! Look at how few votes Conor Lamb won by … just over 600! Thanks for pointing me in this direction … can’t believe I missed this one!
      Cwtch

      Liked by 3 people

  2. The argument here is at crossed purposes: on the one hand they complain about the deceitful operations of the Republicans to keep the poor from the voting booth and then, on the other hand, they urge everyone to get out and vote. If people are kept away from the polls, how on earth can they vote!!?? But the main problem is the corruption that flaws the notion one person/one vote and as the article days it;’s up to the courts ultimately. Indeed, the courts are our only hope in the present circumstances that anything like a democracy can be expected to survive the attacks of the very rich.

    Liked by 5 people

    • You have a valid point. But … there is still a contingent … a rather large one … who aren’t victims of voter suppression, yet do not vote. For some, it is disillusionment, a feeling that whoever wins, nothing will change. For others, it may be simple laziness or disinterest. A friend once told me that she didn’t vote because she had no interest in politics! You can imagine the soapbox I climbed onto then! So, yes, the courts will need to deal with the attempts to disenfranchise certain groups of voters, but there is still another group that needs motivation, a kick in the seat of the pants, so to speak. I would love to see mandatory voting, but it’ll never happen here.

      Liked by 2 people

      • What you say is true (as usual). But I would like to see the schools reinstitute civics courses so that when people do vote they might have some idea what it is they are doing! It’s not just a matter of getting folks out to the polls, but we also would hope they were informed before they vote. I suspect there will be a pretty good turnout this time around. I sense that a great many people are sick and tired of the current political situation! Let’s hope.

        Liked by 4 people

        • You know I agree with you on that one!!! Voter ignorance is just as bad as voter apathy! Yes, let’s hope that the rest of this nation is getting as fed up with the ongoing shenanigans in D.C. and vote the current bunch of clowns OUT! The peculiar thing is that Trump still has a following … a very vocal one, at that. I just don’t get it.

          Liked by 2 people

          • I think Trump appeals to the bottom-feeders, those in our society who see themselves as disempowered (and many are) and are fed up with politics as usual. They are convinced that change, any change, will be an improvement. In a word: the uneducated masses who are sick and tired of those they regard as the “intellectual elite” running the show.
            It is what the French identified prior to their Revolution as “resentment.”

            Liked by 3 people

            • I’m sure you are right, and as I read your comment, it occurred to me that, while I am quick to criticize those bottom-feeders for having subjected us all to the abominable clown in the White House, I cannot actually relate to their situation, to their feelings. Not that I’ve ever been rich or elite, for nothing could be further from the truth. But I’ve always been able to make my way in the world, and I credit a number of things for that, starting with a love of reading at an early age, wise, if not always kind, parents, mental stimulation, and the opportunity for a good (especially by today’s standards) education. So, I’ve never really felt disempowered, but always felt, when things weren’t going well, that I had the tools I needed within my own head, to make the necessary changes. Which explains, in part, why I cannot understand or relate to those who cheer for Trump. I should probably ponder on this one for a bit.

              Liked by 2 people

  3. Good article. One thing I think should be done is to make the voting day a weekend day or holiday. Ron and I always early vote because we both worked on voting day. Several times we almost missed the chance to vote because of shrinking early voting days. I can not understand a political party in a democracy not wanting people to vote as this shows they know the programs and policies they stand for are not what the people want. Rather than change to what the people want, they are trying to push their unwanted ways on the people at the expense of a thing called democracy. Hugs

    Liked by 4 people

    • I agree with you! In most European nations, elections take place on a Sunday, for that very reason. Unfortunately, the current GOP does not want to hear what minorities and the poor want, so if they make it harder for those groups to get to the polls and vote, then they have limited the playing field to the middle and upper-class whites. Sigh. And a decade ago I thought we were making progress. Obviously I was wrong. Hugs, my friend!

      Liked by 2 people

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