For all the years I taught US History and Government a major topic was expanding the franchise in America and increasing the voter turnout. It is one thing to have the right to vote and yet another to get people to exercise that right.
Voter franchise history is America has been a rough road. In the beginning voting was something reserved white males who owned property. Somehow it was thought that unless one had a vested financial interest in the nation they couldn’t make good political choices. And women, well forget that. They weren’t considered inferior for nothing. Obviously, it was believed, the mind of a woman couldn’t hardly deal with the complexities of political issues.
Expanding the franchise has involved political struggle, civil war, great protest movements that some times resulted in violence, drawn out court battles, acts of congress, presidential fiat, Constitutional Amendments, and so much more.
Securing the right to vote for America’s populace has not come quickly nor easily. And in the end, we have turned out to have one of the lowest voter participation rates in the developed world. For most of my life over half of the eligible voters in America chose not to vote, even in years when we are choosing a new president.
During my tenure as a teacher the issues up for debate were how to improve voter turnout. How can we improve voter registration, how can we encourage more people to pay attention to the issues, how can we get more of them to show up on election day and voice their views at the ballot box?
In recent years, however, things have changed. Realizing the demography of America is changing and it is rapidly becoming something other than a white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant society, the conservatives have come to fear what these changes will do to their hegemony over politics.
We have always known that historically minorities, new immigrants, the poor, and the working-class people have favored the Democrat Party. As Blacks, Asians, and
Hispanics minorities have grown in numbers the Republican Party has decided one way to avoid being beaten at the polling place is to reduce the numbers of eligible voters. In well over half of the states Republican led efforts have resulted in a variety of laws that to some degree disqualify voters or make it overly difficult for them to qualify for the voting. Ohio, for example, has a voter identity requirement but it doesn’t require much to meet. But Ohio’s general attorney has done everything in his power to reduce flexible voting hours so working-class people will find it more difficult to exercise their right.
States like Florida and Pennsylvania have passed, or attempted to pass, laws that disenfranchise people who have voted for decades because they don’t have the necessary photo identity cards and find getting them to be too complex, to demanding, and to costly.
The justification or rationalization for the GOP’s efforts to deny so many entrance to the polls is the claim of voter fraud. To hear them talk our election system has collapsed under the weight of voter’s working the system and stuffing the ballot boxes. Actual studies, however, show conclusively that voter fraud in America is almost non-existent.
It simply saddens me to know that so much effort and suffering has gone into winning the right to vote and then to see the right-wing of the Republican Party working so hard to undo much of what has been won. People have spent their blood fighting for the right to express their choice. That blood should never be ignored.