In North Carolina, the Republican state legislators specifically requested data “on the use, by race, of a number of voting practices,” then passed a law eliminating many of the practices used mostly by minorities, then had the audacity to argue in court that their law had nothing to do with race.
The Fourth Circuit Court called them on it in July, one of several voting law rulings in Wisconsin, Texas, Michigan and Kansas saying that laws which target minorities do, in fact, target minorities. The overwhelming evidence is that there is very little voter fraud in America, which means that if a law makes it harder for large numbers of people to vote, it’s not solving a problem, it’s causing one.
This is great news, but if you look at what a nation does, rather than what it says, it’s hard not to conclude that for all the recent court rulings, America believes that most people shouldn’t be voting.
It’s not just that our voter turnouts are comically low given just how many people have died defending our right to a democratically-elected government. It’s also the way in which most states are using antiquated system, insecure systems (any voting machine that doesn’t leave physical evidence of how votes were cast is an invitation to hacking) and see the need to defend themselves against approaches that encourage more people to vote. Why not keep polls open for multiple days, so that people can go when it’s convenient for them and lines will be shorter? Why not allow convenient mail-in ballots? Why not have same-day registration?
What are we afraid of, that more people might vote? That we would have a higher voter turnout?
Again, the evidence of fraud is so low as to be virtually nonexistent. So either we believe in democracy, either we truly believe in “no taxation without representation” and that government ought to be of the people, by the people, for the people, or we don’t. Either we are maintaining a democracy or we are building something else.
The idea that we could be building something else, that America is moving away from democracy, would seem crazy in normal times. But liberal democracy is under assault around the world. The nonpartisan watchdog Freedom House has noted a decline in global democracy over the past 10 years, mostly through increasingly corrupt government and draconian restrictions on who gets to participate in public life. Democracy is a habit much of the world still pays lip service to, but not a passion it is investing in.
The problem isn’t the Islamic State — Iraq and Syria were never free countries — the problem is us. We can’t say we still believe in democracy if we’re making it harder for ordinary people to vote, and the world is watching.
Are we a country that can still make a strong, positive, case for the virtues of a constitutional democracy?
Here’s my case. Over the last 150 years, as the idea of a constitutional democracy was moving from a strange experiment to the dominant form of government in the world, famine has reduced even as the global population has soured. Standards of living have increased almost everywhere. Life expectancy has increased as infant mortality has plummeted. Free speech has thrived. While there are still elites in every democracy, they have become more and more accountable to everyone else. Women have gained formal equality under the law and made great strides towards equality in fact as well as name; minorities once enslaved and abused have become fully engaged members in society. Not perfectly treated yet, no, not at all, but if you compare the ethnic strife in a democracy to the ethnic strife in other countries? We’re doing far, far, better. No contest.
This is what happens when people get involved in their own governments, and those governments have separation of powers and checks-and-balances to keep a majority from getting corrupt or tyrannical. The whole world changes for the better.
We can improve on this, but we’re not going to get a better system. We should be proud supporters of everyone’s right to vote in an environment free from harassment, coercion and fear.
It starts with celebrating everyone’s right to vote.