It is almost time to vote once again and all sorts of weird and wonderful things are happening. One of them is attack ads. Attack ads are so mean that many wonderful people will never consider running for public office. The personal price is just too high. And yet, apparently attack ads work so well that most politicians believe they can’t get elected without them. How sad.
Another strange aspect of our election system is that America, considered by many to be the model of democracy for the world, has one of the lowest voting rates of any developed country. We currently rank number 40 in that category, behind almost everyone else in the developed world.
About 50 percent of eligible voters turn out on average for elections in this country. This year it will be even less because this is a mid-term election. Why would our citizens be so strikingly uninterested in voting? There is a deep skepticism about our democracy revealed in these numbers.
Even though our country has one of the lowest voting rates in the developed world, there is a currently a well-orchestrated effort afoot to lower our voting rate even more. Why would anyone do such a thing? Don’t we all believe that everyone should be able to vote? Apparently not.
In the last five years many states have passed what are commonly called Voter ID laws. These laws usually require that some very particular forms of identification be shown when one goes to vote. Many of the bills add other obstacles, like elimination of early voting options or reducing the number of polling places available. These laws are defended by their advocates as necessary to combat voter ID fraud, although all available research shows that such fraud does not exist at all, or in such miniscule amounts as to be immaterial.
Politicians are not stupid. There must be some other reason for passing such laws. About 10 percent of the eligible voters in America do not have a driver’s license, the form of ID that most of these laws require. These potential voters are typically elderly, students, minorities, and the poor. By some strange coincidence these voters tend to vote more for one of the two major parties, and the Voter ID laws have been passed almost exclusively by the other major party. If a political party could reduce their opponent’s turnout by 10 percent just by passing a law that seems plausible on the surface, they might be tempted to do so. I’ll let you connect the dots.
This deception is so cynical and so un-democratic that almost no one who follows politics is still defending the original excuse for it. In one recent court case the lawyers supporting Voter ID even admitted there was no evidence whatsoever that any such voter fraud had been committed. Just recently Judge Posner, a Reagan appointee, and the judge who first ruled in favor of voter ID laws, reversed his position. He now agrees that such laws are nothing more than political tricks to win elections.
Democracy is an inspiring idea. Many Americans have given their lives for our democracy. And yet, huge numbers of our citizens do not even think it even worth their time to vote. Part of the reason is that what we call voting is so manipulated by Machiavellian power grabs like Voter ID laws, that we don’t have confidence in our own system.
If we are going to have true democracy in America, we will have to run elections not just within the letter of the law, but the spirit as well. Political games like Voter ID laws, gerrymandering, excessive corporate money, and attack ads just increase our sense of a democracy in decline. If we want democracy to thrive, we must practice the real thing, not some constructed illusion whose real purpose is power accumulation and social control. Let the citizens decide, all of them.