US: Fixing Democracy At Home

Many US elections are held on Tuesday, a weekday and inconvenient time for many citizens to reach the polls /EPA

Amherst, MA – Americans are often told that voting is a sacred right and the foundation of American democracy. Politicians and the news media frequently boast that the United States is the world’s most democratic nation. The government provides financial support, technical assistance, and political resources to promoting global democracy. US politicians and the news media are quick to publicise inadequacies in the way that other countries conduct elections, as in their recent criticism of election irregularities in Russia and Myanmar.

In accordance with this principle, US efforts at democracy promotion should begin at home. The pro-democracy movement might begin by identifying fundamental flaws in the way that the US practices one person, one vote, and by questioning whether US elections actually function as advertised to promote a level playing field.

One of the key ways in which those with great wealth and power in the US preserve the status quo is to deter less privileged citizens from voting. The most notorious and vicious historical instance of this was the Jim Crow laws preventing African Americans from voting after the abolition of slavery and the passage of the 15th Amendment following the Civil War. Among the means used were levying a poll tax (a fee) in order to vote. Another required those seeking to register to pass a literacy test, one that was administered by local election officials to achieve the desired result.

Although racial discrimination in elections was officially outlawed by the 1965 Voting Rights Act, many long-standing measures ostensibly enacted to ensure honest elections are in fact designed to achieve the goal of reducing turnout by youth, racial minorities, and low-income groups.

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