US disenfranchisement

By March 14, 2017US Politics

The US Voting Rights Act of 1965 is a landmark piece of federal legislation that prohibits racial discrimination in voting. It has subsequently been amended several times to expand its protections. It was designed to enforce the voting rights guaranteed under the 14th and 15th amendments to the US Constitution1.

Unfortunately, several states have attempted to circumvent this by requiring such things as photographic identification (Photo ID; usually a driver’s licence). This was stated to be a tactic to prevent voter fraud, despite there being little or no evidence that fraud was occurring. This requirement for Photo ID disproportionally affects minority, handicapped and elderly voters who often do not have driver’s licences. Requiring such groups to maintain another type of Photo ID, when it is not required for anything other than voting every two years is seen as a suppression tactic aimed at those groups2.

Perhaps the most egregious example of attempted voter disenfranchisement was that attempted in 2013 by Kris Kobach, the Secretary of State for Kansas, who started the ball rolling by suggesting that there was an epidemic of voter fraud. Despite numerous investigations in Florida, North Carolina, Kansas, Ohio, Virginia and several other states, no instances of voter fraud had been uncovered. Undeterred, Kobach announced that the Crosscheck program had already uncovered about 700,000 potential duplicate votes in 15 states. By the time of the 2016 election, over 7 million voters were on that list and almost all of them were Latinos, African-Americans and Asian-Americans. They were on that list because they had allegedly voted multiple times in previous elections, apparently based on name similarity and date of birth alone. Despite that, very few people have been prosecuted for multiple voting. However, that name matching was used, on election day, to disenfranchise approximately 1.1 million non-white voters who found themselves deleted from the voter rolls. Almost all of these were from Democratic constituencies and were young, black, Hispanic or Asian-American2,3.

In 2004, 5.3 million Americans were denied the right to vote because they had had previous criminal convictions. Thirteen states permanently disenfranchise convicted criminals, while thirty-five states restore voting rights after completion of sentence, parole or probation. Only two states do not disenfranchise convicted criminals at all2.

Every citizen over the age of 18 should be enrolled to vote and this can only be in the state where their primary residence is located. Being enrolled to vote in more than one district should be a criminal offence. However, under the current system where much is largely state-run and consequently shambolic, it is not uncommon for people to be enrolled in more than one state. For instance, Gregg Phillips, the person who started the lie, which Trump of course believed, that as many as three million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election, was registered to vote in three states (Alabama, Texas and Missouri)4. If you want to prevent even the possibility of illegal votes being cast, then you have to adopt a system that prevents it, not encourages it. Other countries do it without much difficulty. Right wing politicians have tried to insinuate that illegal voting occurs in Australia, but they are easily slapped down by the independent Electoral Commission, which maintains the electoral rolls. That is not to say that there are not problems. In the 2016 federal election, 18,000 people have been asked why they voted more than once5. This is a very small proportion (about 0.11%) of the people registered to vote (15,676,659)6 and it is suspected that many of these people may have been marked off in error, as having voted the second time. If they have in fact voted more than once, they face heavy fines and possible gaol time.

Many people will look unfavourably on allowing convicted criminals to vote, but they are citizens who have paid, or are paying, their ‘debt’ to society. They should be able to vote, if only because the political party that wants to stop them doing so, is only doing it out of self-interest. You cannot trust a political party to do anything in the national interest, because that is always trumped by self-interest.




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