The Future of Voting
To think voter suppression isn’t happening is foolish!
Are you voting next election? If so, you will cast your ballot one of two ways: by mail or in person. Given the times, this may seem outdated or unproductive, but that’s because it is. American citizens have basically used the same methods to vote today as we did when Abraham Lincoln ran for president in 1864. One would think 150 years of advances in technology would dramatically change how we vote, but why haven’t state governments updated the process?
There have been some updates, though. The passage of the 15th amendment of 1870 forbade the “right” to vote to be denied on “account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” With former slaves being classified as “citizens” via the 14th amendment of 1868, this should have widened voting access, but there is always a catch. To vote, one must be a citizen, but being a citizen didn’t mean one could vote. Voters were typically males over the age of 21.
Therefore, Black men who weren’t discouraged by the senseless violence, intimidation, or other Jim Crow tactics could vote. This, of course, left women out of the ballot box. The Women’s Rights Movement, although unaligned in terms of strategy, helped pass the 19th amendment of 1920 giving women the right to vote in state and federal elections. Even though political changes had been made, enforcement of these policies would take decades to implement.
It was not until the Voting Right Act of 1965 that states were forbidden from imposing discriminatory restrictions on who could vote. Given the support of the federal government, people of all ethnic and cultural backgrounds could register and vote without the obstacles of poll taxes, literacy tests, harassment, etc. Still, significant social change would need to occur to tame the wicked mindsets of bigoted groups.
Now, more people than ever can vote in United States elections. To think voter suppression isn’t happening is foolish, but how do governments pull it off. They make voting as inconvenient as possible.
The invention of the internet provided users with almost limitless access to information. It has become a platform for entertainment, shopping, research, maintaining relationships, and controlling our homes. We entrust online marketplaces and social media sites with much of our personal information and even manage tax and government services through it. So why not our vote? The threat of hackers trying to interfere with America’s “democracy” will persist, so why not strengthen our cybersecurity?
Even if governments prefer paper ballots, shouldn’t it be easy for citizens to submit them? They make us get up early or take a lunch break to go vote. We have to pay for parking downtown to vote early. We must register for absentee ballots with party affiliation or issues only. They purge our voter registrations without warning, so we have to be on guard each election.
To make it easy, state and local governments could send voting buses (similar to those blood drive buses) through our neighborhoods like the ice cream truck. There could hardly be an excuse not to be registered or vote when they pull up to your front door. They could allow citizens to vote at any precinct location or even extend the time precincts are available to be voted at. There could also be opportunities to register or fix registration errors on election day. These subtle changes could greatly impact voter turnout.
In this representative democracy, I don’t believe the goal is to improve citizens access to voting and voter’s willingness to turnout. Since we put much of the decision-making power into the hands of a few elected officials, their ambition to get and/or maintain authority may trump that of voter participation. When you think about it, why would anyone who has power risk it to make the voting process fair and indiscriminative? They won’t.
There’s a reason why most U.S. election only turnout 50 to 60% of registered voters and I believe it due to active voter suppression. Our government doesn’t trust its citizens to control the country and our citizens don’t trust government to govern fairly and equitably. There is an obvious conflict, but what do we do as citizens to gain leverage? Persuade more people to vote? Encourage folks to vote a certain way? Fight to change the voting laws? If citizens want to control the power of democracy, our battle is structural. We must work as our forefathers have to eliminate the barriers of equity and justice in our country.