Thursday, November 10, 2016

Rig sailboats, not elections

Yes, our elections are rigged. Not by people faking the results as they count ballots, but by the rules that prevent too many people from voting to start with.

Voter id laws are specifically designed to drive down the ability to vote for the less privileged. The biggest effect is to suppress voting for racial minorities.

Closing polling places creates obstacles for people with less free time and fewer transportation options, suppressing votes from the less privileged. Choosing which polling places to close based on demographics or voting patterns is even worse.

Every presidential election, there are stories about people waiting in line for hours to vote. Those stories are overwhelmingly from urban areas, and it suppresses votes from minority populations and from the less privileged.

And decades of mass incarceration overwhelmingly targeting the black community, combined with laws removing the right to vote from those in jail and those who have already served their time, has created enormous racial disparities in who is allowed to vote.

Every registration deadline is an unnecessary hurdle. Every obstacle to early voting and absentee voting suppresses votes. Every flimsy excuse used to toss voter registrations and every even flimsier excuse to toss ballots is a failure to respect democracy.

Having 50 states running 50 different voting systems could be a wonderful laboratory for experimenting and figuring out how to increase voting rates, but instead is being used to develop more and more precise ways to reduce voting rates among less privileged populations. And every disparity in how voting works across the country makes it harder to have a sensible conversation about how voting should work.

And then there’s the Electoral College, which is weighted to ensure that people who live in small states and rural states have a larger voice than people who live in large states and urban states. Maine gets 4 votes in the Electoral College. The population of Massachusetts is 5 times the population of Maine, but we don’t get 20 votes in the Electoral College. We get 11.

We could solve this. We could demand a Voting Rights amendment to the Constitution. We could ensure that everyone who wants to vote has a reasonable chance to vote, and that your opportunity to vote does not vary dramatically depending on where you live. We could insist that voting matters because a government’s legitimacy depends on consent of the governed. We could insist that voting matters because a population that has a voice is more engaged in the necessary shared task of living together. And with time, we might even collectively start to believe it.

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