The 2014 elections and the Second Great Disenfranchisement

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Elections are supposed to be the way people select their leaders. Increasingly that is no longer the case. The courts now occupy an enormous role in determining the outcome of elections–even before they start. That is clearly the case this year where too often the goal has become to rig elections by making it harder for some, especially people of color, the poor, and the young, to vote. This especially seems to be the strategy of Republicans who continue to push the Second Great Disenfranchisement in American history.

Consider what is happening across the country right now, with less than a month before the election and early voting already taking place in many states.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s curtailment of early voting which was adopted by Republicans, after a federal district court and a court of appeals stayed the law. Republicans in Wisconsin pushed through a strict voter ID law and just in the last few days the Supreme Court has enjoined its enforcement for this election. Suits are challenging limits passed by Republicans in North Carolina limiting on same day voter registration and a ban on counting ballots from incorrect precincts. And in just the last few days a federal judge enjoined a voter ID law in Texas that would have disenfranchised over 600,000 voters, especially impacting African-Americans and Latinos. This law too was pushed by Republicans including the state’s governor Rick Perry.

In all of these cases it is Republicans pushing to shrink the electorate, to make it more difficult for people of color, the poor, and young to vote. If the First Great Disenfranchisement came after Reconstruction ended in the 1870s, we are now witnessing the Second Great Disenfranchisement. The former ushered in the era of Jim Crow, polls taxes, literacy tests, and grandfather clauses as tools to deny African-Americans the right to vote. Today claims of voter fraud and measures such as voter ID, long voting lines, eliminating early voting, and the gutting of the Voting Rights Act are the tools to accomplish the same.

Republicans generally are advocating limits on voting, depressing voter turnout even more during midterms elections when Democrat-leaning voters are less likely to show up. This seems to be part of a national strategy to rig elections in their favor. In some states, such as Wisconsin and North Carolina, these curtailments of voting rights could make a serous difference in who wins as governor or the US Senate, and ultimately which party might control the Senate.

But even beyond legal efforts to disenfranchise, another one is occurring. Nationally, perhaps only around 38-40% of those eligible to vote this year. Young people, people of color, and the poor are especially likely to stay home. Yes it may be true that neither of the major parties offers any alternative or real choice for these people, but still one should vote. Vote even if it means writing in a candidate of your choice. Show up, vote, and use it as a protest vote if needed. Get in the habit of showing up and demonstrating to the two parties that your voice matters and it should be considered.

A lot of blood and energy was spent in the passed to get the young, people of color, and the poor the right to vote. Don’t waste those past efforts. Remember, there are many people who don’t want you to vote and who did not want your ancestors to vote. Voter ID laws and other legal restrictions are bad but it is even worse if you decide not even to bother to show up.

Side note: Over the last few days I have heard several commentators and reporters remark that despite the fact that Dayton and Franken have large leads in the polls the races will certainly tighten. Really? What is the evidence for that? In past elections that has happened but so far there is no evidence from the polls that these races are getting any closer. Since the August 12, primary both Franken and Dayton have maintained leads from at least 8 points to more. There is no evidence from the polls that the races are getting close. Instead, the evidence suggests either that public opinion has frozen or that the incumbents have leads that are increasing. Yes, I have some disagreements with the polls but right now there is no hard evidence to suggest these races are getting any closer. In fact, it is entirely possible that minds have been made up and that where we are now is where the final outcome will be. My point? Lacking evidence to the contrary, it is bad analysis to say that the races will tighten unless you have good data this year to support that assertion.