Democracy Soup

Making sense out of the world of politics

For federal elections, we need one non-partisan system to ensure the right to vote

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Originally published on on Wed, 08/13/2008 – 9:38am

Those who don’t understand the structure of this country doesn’t get that “United States” is just an irony. In many ways, we imagine ourselves more as Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria more than Texas, Wisconsin, and California.

Look at abortion laws or medical marijuana laws as great examples. Until Ronald Reagan blackmailed states into depriving them of highway construction funds, age restrictions on liquor differed depending on the state.

Like it or not, the “states rights” mentality is prevalent. And it’s not just here. In Canada, Alberta and Quebec (for different reasons) want a lot more power for the provinces and less for the federal government.

But when it comes to elections, federal elections, there needs to be uniformity. And that is where our system falls apart. I have written about Elections Canada, a nonpartisan organization that runs Canada’s elections. And I have certainly inferred that we need something like this in the United States.

If some Southern state wants to have goofy rules for voting in state races, well perhaps that could work. But to have states make their own goofy rules for voting in federal elections, well that is just wrong.

So if you are a felon, can you vote for president? Well that really depends on where you live. As The Washington Post put it:

All but two states — Maine and Vermont — limit voting rights for people with felony convictions. Some felons are banned from voting until they have completed parole and paid restitution, others for life. Kentucky and Virginia have the most restrictive laws, denying all felons the right to vote, though Virginia Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) has encouraged nonviolent offenders to apply to have their rights restored.

Florida has recently changed its laws, which now allows more than 115,000 felons the eligibility to vote. But they have to be registered.

And this doesn’t even factor in discrepancies, such as who gets charged with felonies (more people of color) vs. misdemeanors (let’s say, more Caucasians).

Now there has been criticism about whether these newly registered felons would vote Democratic vs. Republican. Honestly, if everyone who wanted to vote got a chance to vote without intimidation, I’d take my chances that the country would be in better shape than it is now.

And it’s not just felons. We have a Bush Administration that bans nonpartisan voter registration at federally financed veterans facilities. So you can risk your life for rights that the government will work hard to prevent you from actually using. This is America?

We grew up in a country where we were told that we were innocent until proven guilty. As Americans, we had the benefit of the doubt, and we were proud of that right. So if there is a criminal charge, we get the benefit of the doubt, but if we are trying to vote, we don’t have that right??

What if we had a system where you were on the rolls and it was up to someone else to prove you didn’t belong? What if that system were run in a true non-partisan fashion so voters would be protected?

In our schools, we learn the laudatory vision of what this country has been and still is. This involves rights that people long ago died so we can enjoy. Then outside those academic walls, the reality is completely different. (Well, technically, students don’t enjoy 1st Amendment and 4th Amendment rights, among others.)

Why can’t we have the America we learned about in schools?

A recent New York Times editorial mentions “a large, nonpartisan coalition called Election Protection –made up of civil rights groups, good-government organizations and major law firms — has been doing critical work in standing up for voters. It is an effort that anyone who cares about democracy should get behind.”

And there are a lot of problems that need addressing, and they come in 50 different flavors. It’s amazing that we are fighting an uphill battle for the rights that we thought we had by the honor and pleasure of being U.S. citizens.


Written by democracysoup

August 13, 2008 at 9:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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