The 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution states the “right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of face, color, or previous condition of servitude.”1
The right to vote is guaranteed by the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments of the United States Constitution2.
To exercise the right to vote is the ultimate act of citizenship. As of 2012, the United States had 84.3% of eligible voters registered5. Unfortunately, only about 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential primary. The highest turnout on record occurred in the 1876 race between Samuel J. Tilden and Rutherford B. Hayes4.
The reasons for low voter turnout are hotly debated. Polls suggest that the primary reasons many don’t vote stems from an inability to reach the polling place or problems with the registration process6.
Less subtle reasons for voter disenfranchisement include gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and campaign finance practices.
By definition, gerrymandering is “dividing of a state, county, etc., into election districts so as to give one political party a majority in many districts while concentrating the voting strength of the other party into as few districts as possible.”7
With the help of technology, a party with control of district redrawing can create voting election advantages. Rather than redrawing districts on the bases of impartial common demography, both major parties have shown tendencies to favor practices that give favor to the party with control8. Below is a current map, and a map that has been computer optimized equal-population districts.
Even though the aforementioned Amendments to the U.S. Constitution establish the eligible class of voters and protect that class from having their rights impeded upon by state legislation, laws have been passed that do just that.
The laws are purported to reduce voter fraud by keeping people from voting twice or voting under the name of another person. However, those who object to the laws claim that the laws were passed to keep people away from voting legally.
Voter ID laws, for example, require a government-issued identification to cast a vote. Proponents claim that this type of law ensures election integrity. Opponents point out that such a law impinges on the voting rights of the homeless, the elderly, and anyone else who does not have such an ID even though their rights have been established by Amendments to the U.S. Constitutions.
The ability for corporations and the wealthy to make massive contributions to campaigns flies in the face of the democratic process. To allow greater influence over campaigns to those with money diminishes the voice of the working class.
As of 2014, outside spending reached $486 million which doubled the amount spent in 20109. Overall, groups outspent the candidates running for office; 6% more10.
Restoration of the Democratic Process
Make Election Day a national holiday. Employers are already obligated by law to allow employees 2 hours to vote, however employees must give notice the day before and there are cases where employees feel obligated to stay at work rather than vote. Also, implementing alternative voting methods like mail-in ballots eases the strain on physical voting locations and allows voters to cast their ballots on their own time.
Eliminate voter ID laws. Voter ID laws unfairly discriminate against the working class, homeless, and elderly. These laws fail to provide evidence of actually reducing already trace amounts of voter fraud.
Reform campaign finance laws. Elections should not be for sale to the highest bidder. The ability for corporations and the wealthy to influence elections must be reduced. Reducing maximum contribution limits and the ability to funnel money through super PACs must be put to an end.
Outlaw gerrymandering and implement rational methods when redrawing districts. Majority parties should not have complete control over the arbitrary redrawing of district lines resulting in disproportionate representation.
Disallow winner-take-all awarding of Electoral College votes. Breaking up the process of awarding all Electoral College votes diminishes the effects of heavily populated states with large numbers of Electoral College votes that vote Democratic, Republican, or swing. It gives greater voice to voters who are a members of minority parties.
Establish term limits for all elected offices. Changing the political atmosphere and dislodging career politicians from posts they’ve held for decades will ensure fresh ideas that are more likely to reflect the wills of the constituents.
Implement ranked choice voting. Ranked choice voting gives greater voice to third party candidates.
A more drastic strategy would be to make voting compulsory and to establish incentives to do so11. The elimination of the electoral college would also give greater voice to individuals by creating a 1 vote equals 1 vote reality instead of heavily diluting the voice of urban areas, as rural areas are subsidized and given more influence to offset highly liberal cities.
Increasing voter participation would benefit the democratic process at every level. Empowering citizens to speak their voices facilitates a working government. Elected officials who don’t conform to the needs of their constituents are more likely to be voted out. Elected officials who are more focused on the needs of their constituents are more motivated to act in the interest of those who voted for them instead of sticking to partisan lines.
1 Library of Congress. Primary Documents in American History.
3 Bialik. 2016. Voter Turnout Fell, Especially In States That Clinton Won.
4 Harrington, Gould. 2016. Americans beat one voter turnout record – here’s how 2016 compares with past elections.
5 Desilver. 2016. U.S. voter turnout trails most developed countries.
6 Lorzenzetti. 2016. Here Are 3 Big Reasons Americans Don’t Vote.
8 Ingraham. 2016. This is actually what America would look like without gerrymandering.
9 Vandewalker. 2015. Election Spending 2014: Outside Spending in Senate Races Since Citizens United.
10 Levy. 2015. How Citizens United Has Changed Politics in 5 Years.
11 Fowler, Anthony George. 2013. Five Studies on the Causes and Consequences of Voter Turnout. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard University.