Big Dangers for the Next Election

Democracy and Justice: Collected Writings

edited by Desiree Ramos Reiner, Jim Lyons, Erik Opsal, Mikayla Terrell, and Lena Glaser
Brennan Center for Justice, NYU Law School, 152 pp., available at
Ozier Muhammad/The New York Times/Redux
A civil rights activist at a march outside the Alabama State Capitol commemorating Bloody Sunday and protesting Alabama’s new voter identification law, Montgomery, March 2012

While people are wasting their time speculating about who will win the presidency more than a year from now—Can Hillary beat Jeb? Can anybody beat Hillary? Is the GOP nominee going to be Jeb or Walker?—growing dangers to a democratic election, ones that could decide the outcome, are being essentially overlooked. The three dangers are voting restrictions, redistricting, and loose rules on large amounts of money being spent to influence voters. In recent years, we’ve been moving further and further away from a truly democratic election system.

The considerable outrage in 2012 over the systematic effort in Republican-dominated states to prevent blacks, Hispanics, students, and the elderly from being able to vote—mainly aimed at limiting the votes of blacks and Hispanics—might have been expected to lead to a serious effort to fix the voting system. But quite the reverse occurred. In fact, in some of the major races in 2014, according to the highly respected Brennan Center for Justice, the difference in the number of votes between the victor and the loser closely mirrored the estimated number of people who had been deprived of the right to vote. And in the North Carolina Senate race, the number of people prevented from voting exceeded the margin between the loser and the winner.

But even if it cannot be shown that the suppression of votes made the difference in the outcome of an important race in a given state, that doesn’t exactly make voter suppression benign. Hundreds of thousands of people are being denied their constitutionally guaranteed right to vote. They have the misfortune of living in a state controlled by one party that wants to deprive the other party of as many votes as possible of the groups that tend heavily to support it. The ostensible rationale for such an effort—voter fraud—is itself a fraud.

The Brennan Center estimates that 11 percent of qualified voters in the United States do not possess a government-issued photo ID or any other of the documents required by the voter ID laws now in effect in thirty-two states—a finding confirmed by other studies. Some people were turned away from the polls because they had a driver’s license from another state or because their license had expired.

Of course there were other reasons why the Democratic candidates didn’t do better in 2014. They included the president’s low approval ratings, the Ebola panic, the beheadings of American captives by ISIS, as well as the Democrats’ lack of much to say to the voters. All that fed into the sweeping Republican victory. But none of this disproves the fact that an across-the-board effort to deny the vote to selected groups, especially racial minorities, has been taking place…

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