Conversations on Controversial Issues moderated by Clay Jenkinson: Voting Rights in America
The ideal in a democracy is that every citizen over 18 years old is entitled to vote. State legislatures should devise sensible and efficient and convenient ways to enable every citizen to cast a vote, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, religion, zip code or economic status.
However, we have learned that when there are irregularities, last minute changes to voting procedures or poll decisions made by unelected bureaucrats, the legitimacy of the election may be called into question.
How do we avoid tarnishing the legitimacy of an election? By ensuring that voting procedures are clear and consistent. Voter laws should be scrutinized to make sure they do not have unintended consequences of discouraging or restricting all legitimate citizens from voting. To ensure a fair election, automatic recounts, audits and paper backups need to be adopted in every precinct. Although voter fraud is rare in the United States, penalties for voter fraud should be stiff. People need to feel that their vote counts, that the voting systems are secure and perfectly accurate, and that they will not be turned away from the polls for some arbitrary reason.
These would seem to be simple and straightforward ideals, but recent experience has shown that not everyone agrees with them. Voter suppression laws have been adopted in a number of states. Some Americans do not agree that everyone should vote. Some want to establish de facto literacy tests and adopt what amount to poll taxes, or to make voting so inconvenient that some individuals decide it is not worth the trouble. In some places, partisans gather at polling places to challenge and even menace potential voters. Some candidates for offices that supervise voting procedures have announced in advance that they will manipulate or overturn or refuse to certify votes that they find unacceptable to their political affiliations.
Some reformers believe we need a national voting rights and procedures law that will bring clarity and regularity to voting procedures throughout the United States and to ensure that eligible voters are able to cast their ballots without inconvenience or intimidation. Others argue that voting is a state matter over which the national government has no authority.
Join our moderator, humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson, and a panel of guest presenters as they examine voting rights in America.