“We’ve reached a situation in which the fight over the rules and who gets to vote is seen as a legitimate part of the electoral competition,” -Nathan Persily
Voting has been a cornerstone of democracy in the United States since the founding of our country. Due to the suspicions of tampering in the 2016 presidential election, our country has become obsessed with voter turnout and voter suppression. I decided to look into this vote-fixation in our country, and answer two questions: how and why do political parties suppress voters and how widespread is the lack of voter turnout?
The history of voter suppression and voter turnout
A problem since the beginning?: In order to Understand voter suppression and voter turnout, we must first learn where, when and why these issues started. Once we learn that, we can learn about how voting is affected today. In 1800 the bitter and contested election between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson led to both sides using suspicious tactics to try to win the election. A few years later, Gerrymandering was invented by the Governor of Massachusetts to keep his party in power. Later in our history, people from other states stormed voting polls with pitchforks so Kansas would become a slave state. All these things happened in our history because people wanted to gain power, stay in power or get their ideas into law. These three motivations are still prevalent today. However, today, instead of pitchforks, our elections are being overrun with sophisticated voter surpression and international hacking. Voter manipulation is an old issue that we can solve in modern ways.
Gerrymandering: In 1812, a man named Elbridge Gerry, the governor of Massachusetts, invented gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is a tactic used by politicians to keep their political parties in power and is also one of the most common strategies of voter manipulators. How gerrymandering works is, a politician will change the lines of districts to either isolate or spread out opposing voters. Gerrymandering has not been outlawed because the people who could outlaw gerrymandering are the very ones in power because of it. In other words, politicians will not stop gerrymandering, because it benefits their political party and personal agendas.
Voter Fraud: In 1855, Kansas became a new state. The citizens of this new state had to decide to either be a slave state or a free state. The North wanted them to be a free state, but the South wanted them to be a slave state. Unfortunately, the people of Kansas did not get to decide for themselves. Northerners chose to go settle there and vote for Kansas to be a free state. When the South heard of this they were outraged. People from Missouri went to Kansas, armed with pitchforks, to vote pro-slavery. Around 20 out of every 600 voters were Kansas natives. The Northern voters won, and this result led to more outrage, and unfortunately, violence. This violence escalated and Abolitionist John Brown became involved. John Brown was an abolitionist with violent tendencies, he came to Kansas in response to the southerners. His involvement led to more violence. This event separated the two sides of the country even more dramatically, helping to lead to the civil war.
The Current day Issue
Gerrymandering and Voter Turnout: Every United States citizen who meets the requirements is allowed to vote in any election in their district. However, the power of each citizen’s vote is weakening with every election. Politicians are more focused on creating loopholes to win elections rather than winning the hearts and minds of voters. As Nathan Persily, a Doctor at Stanford, explains “We’ve reached a situation in which the fight over the rules and who gets to vote is seen as a legitimate part of the electoral competition.” Not only does this diminish voters’ power, it also negatively impacts voters’ motivation to vote. Allan J. Lichman points out that “The real problem with American elections is an abysmally low turnout that ranks the United States near the bottom of peer democracies.”
Registration conveniently difficult: In contemporary America, voter registration issues have contributed to minorities not being able to vote. For example, in North Dakota, Republicans passed an ID law that disproportionately affected Native Americans. The affected tribes were asked to get a new form of identification in order to vote. However, the cards were almost impossible to get and had to be ordered by mail. Even the tribe members who had ordered cards did not receive them in time to vote.Examples like this are more prevalent against minority communities. This undermines democracy because the government is taking away some power from its people. As stated above, there is a direct connection between loss of voting power and decrease in voter turnout. Therefore, if we fix the registration issue, we will need to follow it with voter turnout encouragement.
The Popular Vote and Election Hacking : In 2016, a conspiracy spread around America that Russians hacked our election and skewed the votes in favor of President Trump. The result of the hack does not matter. What matters is how the news off the hack affects peoples mindset. Another big detriment to the peoples mindset is that our current president did not win the popular vote. These two facts means that voters belief that there vote matters is at an all time low, we need to change that.
Supreme court reversal: This most obvious solution to one of the issues I have discussed, gerrymandering, is to reverse the decision the supreme court made and outlaw gerrymandering. Then the country needs to make a national law that does not allow districts to be changed. However, the creation of the new political maps need to be done by someone with no political party, or we will never see a balanced election again. This will immediately solve the problem of Gerrymandering.
Make election day on a national holiday, and on a Monday: If we move election day to a Monday and make it a national holiday, voter turnout will increase because people will not be too busy to vote. We should move it to a Monday because you can’t have a national holiday on a Tuesday. This will also make citizens take more pride in voting. When the country takes pride in voting, more and more people will vote. This will also help the United States take pride in our great democracy!
Standardize registration: Voter fraud needs to be solved by laws. One solution is that there should be laws put in place nationally, requiring one type of registration. If we create one way of registering voters nationwide and do not let political parties change it, then there will be fewer issues with voter registration. Luckily, the population of the United States is very interested in politics right now. Hopefully, we do not lose this mindset. The more investment in our government we share, the more people vote. These issues can be solved relatively easily compared to other problems affecting the United States right now, like coronavirus and climate change.
What you can do: Invest yourself in politics! Vote every election, research candidates, and stay up to date on current events. If more people do this, then the United States will have more educated voters, which will lead to better candidates who will hopefully help with the problems I have talked about above. As mentioned before, the United States is currently very invested in politics. If the United States loses this interest, our country will end up with a government filled with horrible politicians and our country will suffer.
Voting is an American value. Ever since we declared our freedom, voting has been the way the people choose their leaders and some of their laws. Voting fraud and suppression undermine Democracy and our country’s core ideals. Our nation has let the tricks and loopholes of winning campaigns live for far too long. These issues have gotten to the point of making the people’s vote not to matter. When people learn that their vote doesn’t matter, our country will lose what makes it so great, the citizen’s voice. This country has prided itself on letting every voice be heard through free speech and voting. Our nation can solve these problems, but we need to do so fast. The result of how these issues affect our country is in the hands of the people, so please, join the fight for our democracy.
written By Christopher Feely
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Lichtman, Alan J. “Voter fraud isn’t a problem in America. Low turnout is”, Washington Post, EBSCO, October 22nd 2018
Morse, Michael “One person, one vote” American political science review, January 3rd 2020 https://scholar.harvard.edu/files/morse/files/1p1v.pdf
Wines, Michael. “What Is Gerrymandering? And Why Did the Supreme Court Rule on It?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 27 June 2019, www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/us/what-is-gerrymandering.html.