September 16, 2012

Steal the Vote: Voter Suppression in the Twenty-first Century

Jamie Hare

Elections alone do not make a democracy, but without elections, there can be no democracy, because the right to vote is the foundation of republican self-governance.

For decades, the United States has had among the lowest voter participation rates of any democracy. In addition, the people who participate in elections are whiter, richer, and have benefited from more formal education than the average voting-age citizen. More than other democratic nations, the United States gives the haves more of an electoral voice than the have-nots.

On top of this, a wave of voter suppression laws has recently swept the United States. In the last two years, state office holders of the Republican Party have repeatedly sought to keep likely Democratic voters—in particular (but not only) African American and Latino voters—away from the polls. These laws have spread from statehouse to statehouse through the efforts of the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group funded by the Koch brothers that also supports efforts to expand gun rights and roll back environmental regulations.

There is, of course, a reason to this. The Republican Party in recent years has significantly shifted to the right. This in turn means that its core constituency has shrunk to white males. In a country whose demographic composition is changing rapidly, with the rise of minorities, in particular of the Latino/a population, this party seems to realize that it can only win future elections by reducing the size of the electorate—hence the attack on the right to vote.

In this paper, James P. Hare, Project Manager at the Rosa Luxemburg Foundation’s New York Office, considers current voter suppression efforts. These efforts–including voter ID requirements, voter roll purges, obstacles to registration, and reducing early voter hours–could affect millions of potential voters and alter the outcome of the 2012 election.

However, this brazen campaign of voter suppression is not just about the 2012 election. It represents a dangerous attempt to undermine democracy and advance a reactionary agenda across the country.