My first idea was to call this episode “Preserving Democracy.” The moment, however, that I refer to our system of government as a democracy, someone will shout, “We’re not a democracy; we’re a republic,” and we’re already wasting time on semantics. I don’t want to argue about which terms we apply to the idea that our government is supposed to be about Liberty. It’s right there in our Pledge of Allegiance: “…with liberty and justice for all.” The only way it works is if we can all vote. We gave up The Divine Right of Kings by 1776. Google’s Dictionary defines it fairly well: “the doctrine that kings derive their authority from God, not from their subjects, from which it follows that rebellion is the worst of political crimes. It was claimed in Britain by the earlier Stuarts and is also associated with the absolutism of Louis XIV of France.”
The idea of America is that we all decide who will represent us, our values, our needs, and our concerns in government. I welcome this concept. I think everyone – and by that, I mean all human beings capable of understanding what it means to vote (more than, say, arbitrarily, 12 years old) should be able to vote. If you live here, whether I agree with you or not, I believe your voice should be heard as clearly as mine. This is true whether you are a convicted felon, an illegal immigrant, a homeless person, or the CEO of General Motors. You have a stake in what happens in this country.
Why do you object to someone voting? Among those of us who have that right, well over 30% of us choose not to use it. Do you believe a prisoner serving his sentence is going to vote for the candidate who wants to legalize robbing a convenience store or something? Is there such a candidate… anywhere? If those who are currently unrepresented, or, at least under-represented, can vote, the country can more accurately reflect the will of its residents. I’m willing to bet that a large portion of us, on both sides of the aisle, would love to end poverty and homelessness.
Universal Voting has met significant opposition from its inception. Women were not allowed to vote for well over a century. Black people weren’t allowed, preliminarily, to vote, and when they were, laws were promptly passed to make it all but impossible. People have died for having the unmitigated temerity of trying to cast a vote.
A few weeks ago I talked to you about The Utopia We Could Create. (It’s Episode 137: The Utopia We Could Create: One Dear Land if you haven’t heard it) I described Ellen Hadley’s vision of a world without poverty and homelessness, with little fear of war, with help for everyone, and with information shared all but effortlessly with anyone who wants it. It’s a beautiful idea. The first step in bringing it to fruition is ensuring that everyone can vote.
While we currently live in an oligarchy, or a government run by the wealthy, we were not designed to work like this. There are many more struggling than thriving. If we let those who are struggling vote, they’re likely to elect representatives who will help to ease their pain. Those who hold power now don’t seem to like this idea very well. They’re doing what they can to make voting as difficult as possible. I’ll give you a few examples.
Politicians often use unfounded claims of voter fraud to try to justify registration restrictions. In 2011, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach championed a law requiring Kansans to show “proof of citizenship” documents in order to register to vote, citing false claims of noncitizen voting. Most people don’t carry the required documents on hand — like a passport, or a birth certificate — and as a result, the law blocked the registrations of more than 30,000 Kansans…
Some states are discouraging voter participation by imposing arbitrary requirements and harsh penalties on voters and poll workers who violate these rules. In Georgia, lawmakers have made it a crime to provide food and water to voters standing in line at the polls — lines that are notoriously long in Georgia, especially for communities of color. In Texas, people have been arrested and given outrageous sentences for what amount at most to innocent mistakes made during the voting process…
A felony conviction can come with drastic consequences, including the loss of your right to vote. Some states ban voting only during incarceration, or while on probation or parole. And other states and jurisdictions, like Maine, Vermont, and Washington, D.C., don’t disenfranchise people with felony convictions at all. The fact that these laws vary so dramatically only adds to the overall confusion that voters face, which is a form of voter suppression in itself.
Due to racial bias in the criminal justice system, felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect Black and Brown people, who often face harsher sentences than white people for the same offenses. Many of these laws are rooted in the Jim Crow era, when legislators tried to block Black Americans’ newly won right to vote by enforcing poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers that were nearly impossible to meet. To this day, the states with the most extreme disenfranchisement laws also have long histories of suppressing the rights of Black people.
These are just three examples. There are many more. Many states are going to great lengths to ensure as few people as possible vote. This is in direct opposition to the ideas upon which our government is founded. If we add to this the gerrymandering that occurs in many places, it becomes clear that those in charge are more interested in maintaining power, and less interested in creating One Dear Land.
The cynic will tell you that your vote doesn’t matter. Both major parties are controlled by the elite, and there’s nothing we can do short of a violent overthrow of the government. The problem with that is, in the unlikely event they were successful, we would then have a government controlled by violent people, and I have no more confidence in their intentions to help us reclaim our liberty than I have in those who currently hold power. The odds of such a revolution working are miniscule. The United States has the most powerful military in the history of the world. There’s no military action a militia can launch that could scratch the surface. Additionally, many people will die in any such plan. I’m opposed to killing except in the most extreme cases of need.
Fortunately, other solutions are available. One is The John Lewis Voting Rights Act. “The John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would restore the law (the Voting Rights Act) to full strength, in part by once again requiring states with histories of voter discrimination to receive approval from the Department of Justice or a federal court before enacting voting changes.”
The idea is that we will have more opportunities for people to vote. More voices will be heard. Is this necessary, though?
The Brennan Center for Justice tells us:
Voter suppression remains on the rise today. In 2021 alone, at least 19 states enacted at least 34 laws that make it harder to vote, while at least 13 restrictive voting bills have been pre-filed for 2022 legislative sessions and no fewer than 152 restrictive voting bills will carry over from last year. Four of the restrictive laws that passed in 2021 are “monster” voter suppression packages that include dozens voting access rollbacks. Two of these monster laws are in states that would be covered by the version of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act before the Senate (Texas and Georgia) and a third is in a state (Florida) that would have been covered by the House version of the bill. (The fourth is in Iowa).
In 1965, states and localities suppressed the votes of people of color with poll taxes and literacy tests. Today, we see insidious discrimination in new forms. We see it when a state bans 24-hour voting in response to its widespread use in a heavily nonwhite county. We see it when a state sets limits on drop boxes that make them harder to access after nonwhite voters used them in droves. We see it when a legislator says we should focus on the “quality” of voters over the quantity.
One step toward ensuring full participation in our democracy is passing the latest Voting Rights Act. There are enough votes in Congress to accomplish this, except that the filibuster keeps it from happening. The filibuster, in modern times, is explained here by The Washington Post.
The filibuster is a Senate rule that essentially requires 60 votes to pass most legislation.
The Senate is required to follow certain procedural steps in passing legislation. When a bill is brought to the Senate floor, any senator can bring things to a halt by speaking for as long as they wish, effectively delaying a vote to end debate on a bill. The Senate can vote to end debate with a three-fifths majority, or 60 of 100 senators. So any bill that has the support of at least 60 senators is, in effect, filibuster-proof, and the Senate can quickly move on to the next steps leading up to a final vote.
But most controversial legislation is passed on party-line votes these days, and it’s very rare for parties to have 60 senators. Democrats only have 50 right now.
In the modern Senate, an objecting senator doesn’t actually have to stand there and filibuster endlessly — you might remember Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) reading “Green Eggs and Ham,” or Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) quoting Jay-Z and Wiz Khalifa, in the midst of hours-long speeches that brought the Senate to a standstill.
Those were examples of what was required of senators decades ago. Now, a senator can simply indicate her intent to filibuster a bill and cause it to be sidelined. That means in the current Senate, all it takes is one Republican to object to a Democratic-sponsored bill, and that bill is stopped in its tracks.https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2021/04/09/what-is-filibuster/
Ending the filibuster would allow Congress to protect our voting rights. It’s not a panacea, but it’s a good step toward allowing us to have a government of the people, by the people, and for the people. There are dangers for both sides of the aisle. Democrats will be able to pass voting rights legislation now, but Republicans are likely to regain the majority in the 2022 elections, and changing the filibuster will give them greater power to pass legislation Democrats won’t like.
The majority of voters chose these representatives. The majority of these representatives want to protect voting rights. I’m a part of that majority, which is extraordinarily rare for a man known for holding minority opinions on nearly every issue.
If the people are accurately and faithfully represented, the people can decide how to make our country, first, and our world, inevitably, the kind of place it ought to be. We can work together to abolish poverty, to terminate homelessness, and to ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met. We need to preserve our liberty if we’re going to accomplish anything else.
Violence is unnecessary and counterproductive. We can use our voices to make a difference. I can’t make that difference alone. Neither can you. Neither can she. But, if every person moves one rock, a billion of us can move a mountain. I’m moving the tiny little rock that I can. I hope you can move a heavier stone.
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world
You may say I’m a dreamer— John Lennon
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will live as one