Jim Crawford: Should everyone vote?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, October 24, 2021

The United States has one of the lowest voter turnouts of the developed democracies.

Is that because people are so happy with the status quo that there is no urgent need to vote? Is it because voters are so angry at those they elect ignoring their interests and needs in favor of corporations and mega donors’ demands that they sit out elections?

Or is it because in America we make voting so difficult that many have chosen to not vote?

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In light of current events and political angst among voters, it seems unlikely that our low voting percentages reflect such happiness with the direction of the country and that there is no need to vote.

The latest Quinnipiac poll on voter satisfaction (Oct. 1-4, 2021) found 48 percent of voters extremely dissatisfied with the direction of the country and only 5 percent very satisfied, hardly suggesting a happy electorate.

While voters are angry all too often when they vote in the current political climate, there is no evidence in the 2020 presidential election that anger kept voters away from the polls.

In fact, more Americans voted in 2020 than in any election in our history. So dissatisfaction is not preventing higher percentages of voters from turning out for elections.

That leaves us with the question: Do politicians want you to vote, or would they prefer fewer voters?

We do know that before the 1965 Voting Rights Act most southern states did want fewer voters, explicitly fewer Black voters. And those states were so successful that the federal Congress passed the first national set of voting rules overruling states’ open discrimination at the polling booth. That established a precedent that the federal government could and would intervene when fundamental voting rights were denied.

The 1965 Voting Rights Act was renewed several times, with changes to add protections. The most recent renewal was in 2006, and that renewal passed the Senate with a vote of 98-0.

Yesterday, U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia authored a bill to modestly provide national standards for mail-in-voting and early voting and to make election day a national holiday.

Each of these provisions was designed to do nothing more than make it easier for Americans to cast their ballot, either by voting at a time of their choice in advance, voting by mail if that was less difficult than appearing at the polling booth or having the day off from work with a national holiday to allow everyone to get out and vote.

Manchin had worked with several Republican senators before advancing the bill to gain bipartisan support for the bill. The vote was 49-51 without a single Republican vote in favor of making voting easier in our elections.

Several Republican senators argued that these voting rights changes would interfere with states’ voting regulations and that would be intrusive. That would seem contradictory to their past votes in support of the 1965 Voting Rights Act and its federal requirements over states’ rights, but they did not seem troubled by the logic gap.

But no Republican acknowledged the actual reason they would not vote for expanding voting rights. 18 states, all with Republican legislatures and governors, have just completed overhauling their voting rules by, in general, making voting more restrictive. And this is because of ex-President Donald Trump’s false claim of election fraud.

Democrats, who all favor expanding voting rights, need to put on their big boy pants and carve out an exception to the filibuster and pass this bill into law before Republicans use the next election to reduce the vote and pick their voters.

Jim Crawford is a retired educator, political enthusiast and award-winning columnist living here in the Tri-State.