The media, the US Justice Department, and respected civil rights organizations continue to argue about issues like Voter ID, felon voting, and the Voting Rights Act. But, as their boxing arena becomes full of political talking points and pontificating pundits, a much bigger fight is going on outside.
It should be qualified that the larger voting rights dialogue, even if a shallow one, concerns a legitimate and important debate regarding the battle between voting accountability and accessibility.But, while we throw hot dogs across the lunch table and narrow the conversation to a “
you’re a racist” or “you’re a cheater” shouting match, there are literally over a hundred million voters in the country who the Republican and Democratic Parties have worked together to push out of the electoral process -- and they represent every race, religion, sexual orientation, gender, income class, or any other division inspiring classification.
EJ Dillion recently wrote for the Washington Post that, “Throughout the world, our country proclaims its commitment to equal rights and broad democratic participation. We seem to be abandoning those ideals at home. You have to wonder what this will do to our witness on behalf of democracy.”
The reality of today’s electoral process is that over 100 years of gerrymandering and ballot access laws written by Democratic and Republican legislators have pushed the “real” electoral competition into primary elections. This representation dilemma is exacerbated by the reality that the winner of the majority party’s primary in any given district wins the general election without any real competition.
And, when winning a primary election is a precondition to being a viable candidate in the general election, it becomes easier to understand why legislators seem to put the interests of their party ahead of representing their constituency as a whole.For simplicity’s sake, let’s assume that any general election with greater than a 10 percent margin of victory is noncompetitive. By that measure, in New Jersey for example,
Worse yet, only 8.8 percent of New Jersey’s voters even voted in the primary. Worse still, 2,621,197 voters were not even allowed to vote in New Jersey’s primary because they refuse to register with either the Republican or Democratic Party. Crunch a few numbers and it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that you only have to win about 3 percent of the vote in a majority party's primary to win a seat in a legislature that is supposed to represent everyone.
And we wonder why we are so polarized? Squeaky wheels get the grease. Partisan candidates get the cheese.
And few people in the media seem to either understand or care about the rights of all voters to participate equally in the process. They’ve found nothing wrong with conditioning participation at a critical stage of the electoral process with the requirement that a voter must sacrifice their fundamental right not to affiliate with a political party.The Democratic Party, who heralds the principles of equality in their rhetoric,
continues to successfully argue in court that its private right of association should trump a voter’s right of participation. The Republican Party, who champions the rights of the individual in their talking points, has parroted the same ironic argument. And the Supreme Court of the United States has agreed with the Democrats and Republican Parties in holding that party primaries are private affairs.
But no one, not even EJ Dillion, ever asks the questions: Why do the Democratic and Republican Party have a special access to our electoral process in the first place? Why should a government fund a private electoral process that results in candidates who represent parties, rather than voters? Wouldn’t the broadest democratic participation result from a process that allows the greatest number of voters to participate? Do you really get to choose where to eat for dinner if you can only choose between what your brother or your sister wants?
National commentators talk about a Voting Rights boxing match where people in red shorts take little jabs at those wearing blue. Maybe we should start questioning why the red team and the blue team have a special access to the ring altogether. Or maybe, just maybe, the rest of us should come together with a big old sledgehammer and tear down the publicly funded arena altogether.