Written by Robert Warden
As I wrote about before the election, the United States has an abysmally low voter turnout rate. There are two basic reasons for this as I see it, and both benefit and are engineered by Republicans: Laws and maneuvers which prevent or make it difficult for people to vote; and the propagation of cynical, anti-government attitudes which discourage voting and other public participation by citizens.
Legal Challenges to Voting
1. Voter ID laws:
Republican legislators in many states have been passing or hoping to pass legislation requiring that strict voter identification criteria be met before a person can vote. The rationale given by these Republicans is that they are trying to stop “voter fraud,” in which ineligible voters cast a vote. In reality, such voter fraud is very rare, and what voter ID laws are intended to do is to prevent poor — and often minority — people, who tend to vote for Democrats, from voting. Wikipedia shows that most states now require some kind of identification from voters who are already registered to vote at a particular polling station (https://en.wikipedia.org/…/Voter_ID_laws_in_the_United_Stat…). In fact, only 19, largely liberal states, plus Washington, D.C., do not.
2. Crosscheck and other efforts to remove voters from voting rolls: In 2016, Republicans — with help from the conservative Supreme Court when it gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 — devised a system called Crosscheck, to take millions of Blacks, Hispanics and Asians off voting rolls in many states. Again, the fake rationale given for Crosscheck is that it is being used to prevent voter fraud. In fact, what it does is remove people from voting rolls who have the same name as somebody else who lives elsewhere. However, people with “Black,” “Hispanic,” or “Asian” names were specifically targeted for removal, because voters from all of these groups are likely to vote for Democrats. People with “white” names, most of whom vote for Republicans, are left alone. I am not sure if the voter’s party affiliation was available for this process, but apparently that was not used directly to selectively eliminate those who vote for Democrats. Rather, Democratic voters were indirectly removed by removing minority voters with the same name. The following article explains how Crosscheck, run by a Kansas conservative named Kris Kobach, was used to prevent over a million, largely minority, voters from voting in this past fall’s election, including many in the key states won by Trump (https://newpittsburghcourieronline.com/…/field-negro-cross…/).
P.S. Before the election, I had a dream about going to a lake with my wife, called Kobach Lake, and fishing, although I am not sure how to interpret that dream. Perhaps trying to catch Kobach at his tricks?
Other methods of removing voters from voting rolls were more limited but just as insidiously and horridly anti-democracy. For instance, people with names that matched felons who were ineligible to vote, were removed from voting rolls, including Florida in 2000, leading to George W. Bush becoming president. Another method of preventing people from voting is to send a letter to the person, asking the person to reply. If the person does not reply, the person is presumed to have moved, and thus is disallowed from voting in that district again. This is called “caging.” Other ways of preventing people from voting include, blocking people from registering to vote, or giving them “provisional ballots” which are not counted. Between all of these methods, it is very likely that Trump would not have even won the Electoral College. Let that sink in for a moment.
3. Limiting the number of places to vote in Democrat dominated areas:
A commonly noted phenomenon in urban areas is having too few polling places for the number of voters. This problem has received some attention from journalists and bad press, but it continues to happen, especially when Republicans are put in charge of planning the voting process. The end result of limiting the number of urban polling stations, of course, is fewer votes for Democrats and other progressives.
Discouraging people from participation
1. Depicting government as the enemy: Going back to Ronald Reagan’s career as a politician, if not earlier, Republicans have ironically portrayed government as the problem while at the same time, vying to be elected as they promise to shrink and fix government. Once elected, rather than shrinking government, they reverse government priorities by increasing military expenditures and worldwide involvement, while reducing taxes and some domestic programs, but so far, they have left the largest, most important programs, such as Social Security, alone. That may be changing with the current batch of Teatards in Congress, however, now being in a position to attempt to make their demented dreams come true, and a fascist friendly Trump administration to work with.
Rather than fixing government (whether Republicans are actually trying to or not being an open question), Republicans end up mismanaging it and ensuring that it doesn’t work well, resulting in a sort of perverse fulfilling prophesy. People are discouraged from participating in government, including voting, when they get the impression from the right wing propaganda that government is in fact the problem. That impression is then strengthened when they observe government malfunctioning, further suppressing participation.
Further irony is provided by the fact that Republicans tend to continue to vote for their candidates, ever faithful that their policies will ultimately succeed in shrinking and fixing the problem of “government interference,” once they are really enacted and predominant. Yet, more liberal minded people seem to be discouraged from participation by these tactics. Reasons for this are not entirely clear, but perhaps this is because most younger voters are liberal and more easily discouraged from voting. The same may be true of minority voters. What is clear is that younger voters and minorities are less likely to vote, and are more likely to feel politically disenfranchised and helpless. My guess as a social psychologist is that the main effect of this program to disparage government, is to make voters who are more on the fringe of politics or less experienced and more tentative about poiltical involvement, discouraged to the point of feeling helpless politically. Thus, such people are unlikely to vote unless someone who gives them a genuine sense of hope for reform comes along.
2. The lesser of two evils meme: A concomittant to the disparagement of government, is the meme that voting means choosing the “lesser of two evils.” This to me seems to be a specious meme that has very broad appeal to those who are discouraged by the current state of politics, but really is not true. The argument made by people who deploy this meme is that it does no use to vote for Democrats or Republicans, because both are evil and essentially similar. One might be a little less bad than the other, but both are evil, they say, and evil is evil. Do you see the problem here? Presuming that virtually all politicians — or at least all Democrats and Republicans — are evil is self-defeating in the extreme, as well as being simply untrue. There are many good public servants in politics. Why not promote and vote for good ones? And if one cannot find any that are blissfully uncorrupt, at least we can choose the better one and insist that the person behave and act like a public servant. We know that public pressure tends to sway politicians; there are numerous and ongoing examples of this. In short, why label voting as choosing the lesser of two evils? Why not frame it as striving for the greater good?
How this works for conservatives, is that again, those who are relatively tentative about politics, most of whom have relatively progressive preferences for government, are discouraged from voting through exposure to these ideas. Meanwhile, loyal conservative voters continue to vote, unimpeded by voter suppression attempts, as they still expect some kind of magic cure for government to take place once their people have complete and utter control of government.
3. Reducing faith in the media: Not only has faith in government institutions eroded, but faith in the media has also. The current administration has brought this campaign to a fever pitch with its claims of “fake news” by the mainstream media. The reason they are doing this is to train people to trust in them and their sources, rather than other sources which may at least make some kind of effort to be objective and fair. In addition to this, the rise of right wing talk shows and Fox so-called news over the past couple of decades has been training the minds of conservative, largely rural, white America, not to trust any other news sources. Thus, the message is not to distrust all sources of information/misinformation, but to trust only the “right” ones. Meanwhile, those who are not swayed by conservative messages, may find the process so discouraging that they are less likely to vote because of their negative perceptions of the media. If you cannot trust what you see on television, how will you know who to vote for?
What can we do about voter suppression?
We need to all pitch in as progressives to fight voter suppression. These are problems which can and need to be addressed.
Complain to politicians about voter ID laws, Crosscheck, and other voting suppression techniques. Organize to encourage the outlawing of these practices.
Complain to government and voting organizations about lack of polling places, and demand more of them, or demand alternative voting techniques such as through the mail.
Talk to people about how the government is not the enemy, and how we can restore faith in government by making it work better. Explain why common memes that people hear which disparage government, are misleading and false.
Look for trustworthy media sources as well as politicians. They are out there. Never give up.
Talk to people about politics, encouraging them to vote, and vote for progressives.
Government is meant to be us. Once we the people begin to reclaim politics as our domain, reforms will happen and government will dramatically improve.