Wednesday, July 20, 2016

On Vote Suppression and the Poltical Underclass -- A Primer

Despite the attention given to the politics of the current election cycle, the enduring debate about vote suppression remains. Though the firestorms regarding changes in voting rules, including voter identification laws, election administration changes, and felon disenfranchisement, have not (yet?) had the same degree of prominence in this presidential election year as they have in years past, litigation around what is often called "the New Vote Denial" continues in Alabama, Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, and Virgina (among other states).

Indeed, as recently as yesterday, a federal court in Wisconsin ruled that voters in that state who do not possess the required identification and who cannot obtain an ID with reasonable effort may nonetheless cast a ballot that counts if they swear in an affidavit that they cannot obtain an ID.

I plan to discuss these recent controversies on the blog as we approach the November general election. To kick of this discussion, I want to refer readers, and in particular, readers not versed in these disputes (which disproportionately affect minorities and the poor) to an op-ed I wrote for the ResearchGate blog on politics on the nature of vote suppression. The discussion is a primer--it seeks to introduce the problem of the new vote denial to an international audience.

While there are those who argue that strict gate-keeping regarding elections is necessary to prevent fraud, I argue in the ResearchGate post that

The cumulative effect of [the policies of strict voter identification and felon disenfranchisement] is that a political underclass continues to exist in the United States. These policies affect the poor generally, but their particular impact on poor people of color further marginalizes an already historically marginalized political community, and it is an affront to the civil rights movement that sought to make good on the promise of political equality for all citizens.

While the solution necessarily must vary from state to state—not all states have the strictest rules described here—the ultimate solution to this problem of voter suppression is to elect governmental officials who will seek to make elections more inclusive. Politicians in a handful of states have already sought to take steps to either eliminate the effects of felon disenfranchisement laws or to promote automatic voter registration processes to limit the effects of photo identification laws.

But more steps can and should be taken.

You can read the entire post here. And in the coming weeks, I will write more about the state of voter suppression in 2016.

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