Current legislation across the United States prevents substantial numbers of minorities and poorer Americans from exercising their fundamental right to vote, says Morgan Ogryzek as she questions how existing practices align with values of democracy.
With the upcoming presidential election to be held later this year, Americans have been exposed to a polarized array of priorities. Yet, with diverse and controversial agendas involving national security, immigration reform, water sanitation, and climate change, it appears the fundamental aspect of democracy has been neglected: voting.
Of course, it would to misleading to not acknowledge the enthusiasm of Secretary Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders towards the voting power of young Americans. Political organizations and well-known celebrities have also encouraged political engagement in youth. Yet, lack of internal motivation is not often the logic behind decreasing voter participation. Regardless of public service announcements, many Americans are denied the opportunity to vote.
Texas legislation blatantly excludes minority residents from voting
Despite historical progress, voting laws prevent members of minority groups from exercising their right to vote. The 2013 Supreme Court Case Shelby County vs. Holder is a prime example of how states have received optimum freedom to alter voting laws without federal review. Particularly, states with a known record of racially charged legislation were granted the ability to freely enact restrictions. For instance, many states have enforced harsher requirements for voters to provide various proofs of identification.
Yet, studies unravel alarming rates of declining voter participation and political engagement among minorities in states with stringent identification requirements. Texas, a state with one of the most restrictive voting laws, currently has over 600,000 registered voters that are not eligible to vote under status quo identification laws. Driving licenses, passports, and other acceptable proofs of identification are often not accessible for poorer Americans to obtain.
A study centered in Wisconsin discovered that less than half of African-American and Hispanic adults had driver’s licenses, contrary to the 80% of White residents with them. With a long history of red-lining and economic inequities, many minority groups have been forced to live in urban and poorer areas, where driving is often unnecessary or unaffordable. Thus, Texas legislation blatantly excludes minority residents from voting.
The Disenfranchisement of Convicted Felons
Many states also uphold felony disenfranchisement, a policy that limits the voting rights of convicted felons. “Taxation without representation” becomes the reality for several Americans, particularly African-Americans and Hispanics who are disproportionately targeted in the war on drugs and overly represented in prisons. According to the Sentencing Project, three states (Kentucky, Virginia, Florida) have one in five Black adults disenfranchised.
Many fail to understand that those who are prohibited from voting have often completed their sentence, which can include a night in jail. While post-sentence voting access is dependent on the laws of the states, more lenient states still obstruct poorer Americans from immediately heading to the polls. Some states have fees to pay upon the completion of one’s sentence in order to once again vote; however, the financial demands are unreasonably high.
Still, many refute the necessity to alter current voting restrictions, directing the conversation to the possibility of fraud. An alarming amount of support of status quo restrictions stems from those who object to and fear “big government.” Yet, the current state of voting regulations and institutional barriers is a reflection of the very governmental structure they fear. The hypocritical nature of this ideology is not only illogical and discriminatory, but is also incredibly dangerous. A continued trend of present voting restrictions would only lead to the ultimate silence of vast populations of Americans. Influence would become even more disproportionately saturated with white, wealthy Americans. With claims to be the model democracy and the “Land of Equal Opportunity,” the totality of voting restrictions beg to differ, as they compromise the fundamental tenets of democracy and political participation.