Casting your ballot upon stormy waters
The right to vote in elections that will determine the governing of our society receives equivocal support in the U.S. Constitution. Various protections have been added over time, guaranteeing that race, sex, and payment or not of a poll tax cannot be used as disqualifying factors, and we decided as a nation that if someone who is eighteen can be forced into military service, that person should be able to have a say in what wars we fight. But as we’ve seen — twice in my voting lifetime — with the electoral college, the framers were suspicious of the capacity of ordinary people to make good choices. The president and U.S. senators were to be picked for us — the latter having been eventually changed to direct voting by another amendment.
But one of the unenumerated facts about the American voting procedure is that elections are left to the states to run. That is the reason for the amendment that took payment of a tax off the table for voting eligibility, given the number of states that persisted in keeping blacks from participating. The clause in another amendment that lets states deny the vote to felons is now a favorite means of accomplishing the same goal.
In one respect, this distribution of the voting system is a safeguard of our rights. Many of the founders of this country feared democracy — what they called mob rule, often — but they also were leery of concentrating power in the hands of the federal government. Unlike Mexico, for example, we do not have a national voting ID card or any similar mechanism for imposing uniform standards across the whole of the country.
This illustrates one of the hypocrisies of the Republican Party. Their push for voter ID laws is precisely the kind of big government that they claim to be against. The excuse that they only want to guarantee the security of the vote fails here, since they don’t want government large enough to guarantee healthcare to all, public safety provided by a national police force, or marriage between adult couples who aren’t approved by a local county clerk.
And here we have an odd contrast. For the early part of my politically aware life, the federal government — particularly the judicial branch thereof — was the protector of individual rights. Cities and states would impose some violation — be it laws against sodomy and mixed marriages, establishment of one flavor of one religion, the list goes on and on — and the high court would strike it down.
Unfortunately, that certainty is gone, thanks to decades of Republican appointments to all levels of appeal in the federal courts. We’re left with one of our chief defenses being the dispersion of data, the inertia of bureaucracies against sharing. And thus it is that once again, Donald Trump is threatening our survival as a democracy. Or at least the people whom he’s invited into his administration are, since he lacks the intellectual capacity to get into the details.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (I will not make jokes about the Ks there; I will not make jokes about the Ks there), a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (Mr. Orwell, please come to the courtesy desk), wants every state to provide the federal government with the “names, birthdates and Social Security information for registered voters going back to 2006.”
The reason for this is the usual claim about wanting to secure the vote, a desire to prevent people who are not allowed to participate from casting ballots. This reminds me of all the shouting about how we needed to share data among federal agencies to keep us secure after 9/11, leading to the massive violation of privacy and the rule of law that was the USA PATRIOT Act.
In fairness, the data requested are publicly available, but as I said, one protection for personal liberty is to keep them spread out, rather than gathered together in one place. This is true about the yearning of bureaucrats to meddle in our lives, but it’s also the case with regard to hackers who would see the supposedly secure database as a warehouse of personal information. And not just hackers, of course. Political parties have been accessing these data for a long time, leading to robocalls, hyperbolic advertising, and the gerrymandering of districts.
With all of that said, a national voting system and policy could be a good thing. But getting there would require many new protections to guarantee access to the vote, and in the present political climate, those aren’t going to happen. Republicans don’t want minorities voting. They don’t want to give up their assertion — supported by no evidence — that millions of illegal aliens are casting ballots. They’ve made that claim in an effort to gin up fears that will lead to a federal takeover of the voting process, and it’s up to all of us to deny them that power. The security of the vote lies primarily in the informed participation of all of us, and that’s exactly what Republicans can’t stand, knowing as they do that when informed people make choices, Republicans don’t hold on to their offices.
The vote is our way to express the right of each person to participate in how our society is run. Denying this fundamental right is yet another outrage perpetrated by the Republican Party, most recently headed by a professional troll, and one that we must resist.
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