The principle of “one person, one vote” rings out upon the American landscape as an essential and central unifying element of our great democracy, but one which, unfortunately, merely resounds as an ideal rather than as the reality.
In the early years of our country during Colonial times, eligible voters involved only wealthy landowners, primarily white men. Because the framers of our Constitution could not agree on national voting standards, the individual states decided. Most states, though, continued to grant voting rights primarily to the landed gentry. In fact, during the election of our first President, George Washington, approximately only six percent of the total population of the new nation was eligible to vote. Eventually, white men of a certain age were granted the vote regardless of their ownership of property.
Former enslaved peoples were granted citizenship in 1868 under the14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, though only males could vote. The 15th Amendment passed in 1870 granting suffrage to males regardless of “race” on the federal and state levels. This did not extend to Native Americans since the federal government defined them in oxymoronic terms of “domestic foreigners.” In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act barring people of Chinese ancestry from becoming naturalized citizens, thereby excluding them from voting.
So-called “Jim Crow” measures enacted by a number of states placed enormous roadblocks in the way of African Americans registering to vote in the form violent intimidation, voting taxes, and literacy tests. In some places, African Americans were not allowed to register unless they determined the exact number of grains of rice or beans in a large container.
After many years of fierce and prolonged battles, women won the right to vote with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920, though other groups faced continued restrictions, including Asian Americans and Native Americans.
The Supreme Court of the United States advanced voting rights in Reynolds v. Sims (1964) by ruling that state legislatures must redistrict so that congressional districts contain roughly equal represented populations, with continued redistricting as needed after censuses. State lawmakers to this day stack the odds in their favor and against the electorate be gerrymandering districts.
The 24th Amendment passed in 1964 outlawing poll taxes as a condition for voting, and the next year in 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act forbidding states from implementing discriminatory restrictions on voting, including a provision requiring legislators in states with a history of discrimination against minoritized voters to get federal permission before changing their voting procedures. The 26th Amendment followed in 1971 lowering the voting age to 18, won primarily by young people who rightly argued that if the federal government could draft them into military service where they could possibly lose their lives in foreign wars, they most assuredly must also have the right to choose their leaders. Still to this day, residents of some U.S. territories, though granted U.S. citizenship, do not have the right to vote in some important elections.
Democracy in the election process suffered a serious setback when the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a vote of 5-4 in 2010 in the case Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. Since the First Amendment prohibits the national government from curbing independent political expenditures of nonprofit corporation, the ruling has extended this to for-profit corporations, labor unions, and other organizations. The result of this decision has been the almost unlimited corporate funding funneling into the election process to disproportionately affect elections.
The Anti-Democratic Electoral System
Even with all the advances in the U.S. electoral process over the years, “one person, one vote” stands merely as a distant mirage completely out of reach of the electorate. Just some of the seemingly endless array of obstructions in the democratic voting process, we witnessed the recent stripping of the Voting Rights Act by the Supreme Court, state voter suppression laws, the state presidential caucus systems, the ways major political parties determine delegates to their conventions, and the Electoral College system.
Voting Rights Act Gutted:
The Supreme Court, in Shelby County v. Holder, by a 5-4 ruling in 2013, eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Following the decision, Supreme Court Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sided with the minority, warned that the 1965 act was still needed, and the ruling was like “throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” In the aftermath of this decision, primarily Republican lawmakers in states throughout the nation have imposed measures to inhibit racially minoritized and younger people, who traditionally cast ballots for Democratic Party candidates, from voting. Though very little voter fraud has been uncovered, tactics include reducing the number of polling stations, decreasing the amount of days open for voting, requiring voters to present certain often-difficult-to-obtain forms of photo identification, and other measures.
The Problematic Delegate Selection System:
The state presidential caucus system by its very nature is inherently undemocratic. The amount of time necessary (up to 3 or 4 hours) during a specific block of time during the day makes it possible for only a limited percentage of the electorate, primarily Party activists, to participate. In addition, by having to position oneself (to caucus) at specific locations within a large room or in various rooms depending on the candidate one supports eliminates issues of confidentiality and privacy in the election process.
The manner in which the state primaries and other delegate-selection systems function restrict a true democratic process. A candidate may receive a given proportion of votes compared to other candidates of a political party, but fail to receive that proportion of delegates who will cast their votes for that candidate at the Party’s presidential convention. This inequitable distribution is heightened by the Democratic Party’s so-called “super delegates” composed of primarily state elected officials and other leaders who vote their own particular preferences rather than following the will of the people in their states. On the Republican side, Party officials in a state like Colorado chose delegates to the Presidential Convention without that state’s electorate ever casting a vote.
I suggest changes to the current primary system:
1. Abolish the state caucus system.
2. Establish regional primaries, for example, one for the Southern states, another for the Eastern, Midwestern, Pacific Northwestern, Southwestern, etc. Rotate the sequence of regional primaries each Presidential election cycle.
3. Residents of U.S. territories that are not currently granted the right to vote in national elections must have that right.
4. Eliminate the delegate selection process altogether. Each candidate will receive a running total of votes, which that candidate receives in regional primaries. Following the last regional primary, the candidate of each political party with the most total number of votes (whether a majority or plurality) will become that Party’s presidential nominee.
5. The Party nominee will have the right to choose a Vice Presidential running mate.
6. Reinstate and enhance the Voting Rights Act.
7. Increase the number of voting days from one day to one week.
8. Increase the number of polling stations.
9. Eliminate the spate of voter suppression laws.
10. Allow same-day voter registration.
11. Eliminate the inequitable system of gerrymandering, which could possibly come about through U.S. Justice Department monitors or high court mandates.
12. Reverse Citizens United v. Federal Elections Commission.
To further ensure a more democratic “one person, one vote” system, we must finally and fully scrap the undemocratic Electoral College system, which can and at times does elevate the runner-up in terms of cast votes to the presidency, as evidenced by the selection (not election) of George W. Bush over Al Gore in 2000.
To view my PowerPoint presentation, “Immigration as ‘Racial’ Policy,” click here.
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