Capitalism, economy & financial well-being in America, Change & the rate of change, Government & Law

Two Critical Pillars of Democracy are Crumbling

March 18, 2019

For our democracy to be healthy (1) Voting Rights – every citizen must have easy access to voting, and (2) the voting process must be secure, fair and efficient.  If we are truly a democracy “of, by and for the people” both of these are fundamental and absolutely critical.  Unfortunately the trends of the last decade or so have resulted in major attacks on both.

The 15th Amendment to the US Constitution states that “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.” Despite this the Southern states continued to find ways to suppress mostly poor black voters.  In 1964, the 24th Amendment made poll taxes illegal in federal elections; poll taxes in state elections were banned in 1966 by the U.S. Supreme Court.  The Voting Rights Act of 1965, signed into law by President Johnson, aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented black Americans from exercising their right to vote.  In 2013 the Supreme Court effectively struck down the heart of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, freeing nine states, mostly in the South, to change their election laws without advance federal approval.  Since then suppression efforts seem to have accelerated.  Examples are “exact match” laws that require various IDs have details that exactly match; another is a requirement for special ID documents at the polling place.  These are obvious efforts to suppress the poorer segment of the electorate which tends to vote Democratic.  So we have morphed from an effort to suppress black voters to all who tend to vote Democratic.  We are in era of combative politics and the consequences for democracy are bleak.

According to  Electoral process refers to (1) The method by which a person is elected to Public office or, (2) The taking and counting of votes.  The US Constitution specifies the right to hold elections. The method and place of conducting elections are left to the states to decide, but the Congress has the power to alter their regulations. The Constitution specifies that election to House of Representatives shall be direct or popular. The election of the President, Vice President and Senate shall be indirect. The President and Vice President are chosen by electors selected by the people. The Senators are chosen by the popular election.

The number of Representatives is set by Congress and has been 435 since 1911, which means each representative represents over 700,000 citizens.  The number of representatives per state depends on population and is reapportioned every decade after the national census and can be redrawn more frequently.   After the reapportionment each state divides itself into congressional districts, one district for each representative.  Each state has its own process for redistricting, and it has become very political in many, mostly Republican, states.  Because states control how district lines are drawn, there has been a trend, mostly in Republican dominated states to gerrymander the districts.  Wikipedia defines “gerrymandering” as – Gerrymandering is a practice intended to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating district boundaries. The resulting district is known as a gerrymander.  North Carolina is an oft cited example.  In the 2018 election Republicans got 50% of the congressional representative votes statewide, but won 9 of 13 seats, ~70%.  Gerrymandering is clearly a cancer on our democracy.  We hear most about congressional districts, but the practice is also common in state legislative districts.  It is used to ensure political party control of state government.  With that control, the party controls redistricting for federal congressional districts.

These trends are eroding, and seemingly at an ever faster pace, our concept of “government of, by and for the people”, the hallmark of our democracy.  The remedy?  Clearly we need a new federal voting rights act that ensures common, fair practice in all states for federal elections.  We must also pressure states to use independent non-partisan committees to do all redistricting.  Districts must be defined without political bias.  In addition there must be rules for the number and location of polling places, sensible voter ID requirements, etc.  To get this we must first elect representatives and senators that place the health of our democracy above all political and personal ambitions – not easy, it will take time, but absolutely necessary.  This job will in turn be easier if we also work to lessen the economic divide that now polarizes our political system.

Photo by williac

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