The history of the United States is one of continuous struggle by disenfranchised people to achieve the right to vote. African Americans, Native Americans and women were not allowed to vote when the original 13 colonies broke away from England. Civil rights workers were beaten and killed by racist thugs who often worked hand in hand with the police. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 extended the right to vote to include African Americans who had long been excluded from the electoral process. That right was achieved as a result of demonstrations, agitation and civil disobedience, not through the generosity of enlightened politicians.
At first glance, it might seem that the history of voter enfranchisement in the United States has been one long march to ever increasing rights as more and more groups have been empowered and invited to participate on Election Day. That narrative however, is profoundly misleading. In fact, these hard-fought rights have been repeatedly threatened.
Although conservative groups describe voter “fraud” in race-neutral terms, their intent is clear. As the country grows more diverse, and the historically white Republican base shrinks in relative terms, they are trying to disenfranchise Black, Latino and other poor voters. This is especially urgent in the so-called swing states, where such groups can be of decisive importance.
A Pennsylvania judge halted a Voter ID law that would have required an up-to-date state identification card or passport to vote. Analyses found that as many as 9 percent of voters had no such ID cards, and another 5 percent had expired cards. These groups are disproportionately poor, as well as newly eligible voters, the elderly, African Americans and Latinos.
Nationwide, as many as 10 million eligible Latinos—especially recently naturalized immigrants—might lose the vote if such Voter ID laws were to go through, according to a study conducted by the Advancement Project.
The instances of “voter fraud” are extremely rare, and the largest recent case was of a Republican-oriented group falsely registering deceased voters in Florida.
These so-called anti-fraud measures are only the latest form of disenfranchisement. Other forms of discrimination are already the law and must be combated.
Disenfranchising prisoners and ex-prisoners
One of the most insidious forms is that in many states prisoners and ex-prisoners are not allowed to vote, even after they have returned to the community. This ongoing denial of rights is particularly significant in light of the huge increase in the prison population over the last 40 years. The United States incarcerates more people—2.2 million—than any other country in the world.
The Sentencing Project, an organization focused on issues relating to prisoners, notes that 5.85 million people in the United State are denied the right to vote because they have been convicted of felonies. The widely documented racism of the so-called justice system in the United States leads to increased disenfranchisement for Blacks and Latinos. An estimated one in 13 African Americans are denied the right to vote because they have been incarcerated.
Denying prisoners and ex-prisoners the right to vote advances the goals of right-wing interests because those who have experienced the racism and injustice of the so-called justice system in this country would overwhelmingly support more progressive and radical political action if they could vote.
Peta Lindsay, presidential candidate of the PSL, told Liberation, “In addition to opposing mass incarceration policies, we oppose this institutionalized discrimination. Prisoners and ex-prisoners must have full and equal political rights.”
Undocumented and citizen immigrants
Another disenfranchised group that contributes significantly to society in spite of being demonized by politicians and the corporate media is the millions of immigrants, whether non-citizen residents or undocumented people. Many undocumented workers came to this country to flee the U.S.-backed reign of terror in Central and Latin America. Others left Mexico when the impact of NAFTA destroyed the local agricultural economy.
Capital can freely cross borders to gain ever more obscene profits, but workers are treated like criminals when they are forced out of their communities by desperate living conditions. They live in constant threat of deportation, and their families are frequently torn apart by police-state type raids and unjust laws.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation calls for all adults living in the United States to have the right to vote. The PSL fights for equal rights for all immigrants, undocumented or not.
Republicans attack, Democrats offer soft defense
Republicans, aware that their political base is overwhelmingly white, have targeted people of color in their campaigns against so-called voter fraud, but the Democratic Party has done little to defend the right to vote.
This was seen in the 2000 election, when a well-documented, systematic purging of the voter registration rolls clearly targeted people of color in Florida. It was also seen in their lackadaisical response to the problems of electronic voting, which can be hacked and manipulated. Both parties, serving corporate interests, know to maintain the status quo and not rock the boat by calling into question the country’s so-called “democratic institutions.”