Right Wing Attacks on Government of the People, by the People, For the People

The United States has the highest rate of people who are incarcerated in the world.

By that definition, having the highest number of imprisoned citizens, we are NOT the freest nation on earth. We do not have more crime than any other nation in the world. 

By the definition that we are free because we have representative government, government as when Lincoln said, of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from the earth…..we have an appalling level of voter participation.

We are not free when those people who CAN vote DON’T engage in that civic exercise of governing.

We are free, as other nations are free, when we have the power to vote our government into and out of office, not when we are allowed to use lethal force on each other.  Courtesy of the excellent group, Why Tuesday, I discovered that we ranks 138th out of 172 nations in voter turnout historically, and DEAD LAST in voter turn out since 1945, with an average rate of voters participating of 47.7% since 1945.

A few of the many many countries which vote at a higher rate of participation than we do:

Italy (92%),

New Zealand (86%),

Canada (82.6%),

Thailand (82.1%),

Greece (80.8%),

Germany (80.2%),

Israel (73.8%),

Japan (68.7%)

Costa Rica (68.1%),

France (67.3%),

India (61.55),

Jamaica (58.6%),

Russia (56.6%), 

As a comparison, in Iraq in 2005, their voting turnout rate was 79.63%, with a 1.66% of invalid votes cast; by 2010 that rate had dropped to a still very healthy 64%, with no available rate of invalid votes that I could readily find (but no indication either that the percentage had gone up), and a 3 million+ increase in registered voters, as context to the percentage of voter turnout.  Especially given the problems with their infrastructure, I find this voter participation rate still certainly acceptable as a legitimate election.

Libya had in their first election, over 60% voter turnout, but that would have been higher if it were not for some extremely adverse conditions in some areas:

Libya’s first election in six decades reportedly had a high voter turnout, but the day was plagued by still-formed rebel militias committing acts of violence and sabotage and preventing over 100 polling stations from opening.

There have been reports of protesters storming a few polling stations in the eastern city of Benghazi and in the eastern town of Rad Lanuf, militias prevented voters from voting.

With nobody shooting up our polling places, we still manage less than 50% average turnout for elections?  And our response is to continue to disenfranchise MORE legal voters? In the context of a nation founded on representative government, of government of the people, by the people, FOR THE PEOPLE — how does that make sense?

Egypt had a 62% voter turnout for their primary, and as with Libya, they had some polling place obstacles. Tunisia had a voter turnout of over 90% at their first election since ousting a dictator. 

In contrast, the Minnesota 2012 primary had a voter turnout of 9%, one of the two lowest primary voter turnouts since 1950; in 2004, it was 7.73%.  A small but possibly mitigating factor, the state did change the primary dates; this was the second election on the earlier date.

The only highlight in that regard was the news about the CD6 area primaries, per MPR News:

Bachmann scores weakest Minn. GOP US House incumbent primary win in 50 years

Smart Politics: “Michele Bachmann’s 80.4 percent primary vote total on Tuesday was the smallest vote percentage received by a Republican member of the U.S. House from the Gopher State since 1962 spanning 75 incumbent reelection bids.”

Over the next 25 cycles since the Election of 1964 – which includes 75 Republican incumbents running for reelection – no Minnesota GOP U.S. Representative received a lower vote total than Bachmann’s 80.4 percent on Tuesday.

In fact, most candidates never even faced a challenger, with 63 of these incumbents running unopposed during this span.

The last time a sitting GOP U.S. Representative from Minnesota faced two challengers at the primary stage was 1956 when 8-term incumbent Joseph O’Hara was opposed by Alf Swenson and Walter Muhlenhardt.

Add to that this info from the STrib on Bachmann’s fund raising, I have to look at the 2012 elections as a possible victory for government by the governed, instead of by— or buy — the bought and sold:

A Star Tribune analysis of her most recent financial reports shows that up to 80 percent of her reported contributions came from individuals outside Minnesota, up from 63 percent in a similar study done in April 2010.

The prevalence of outside money in elections seems to be a new development, one that allows large special interest donors, both corporate and private individuals, (who expect favors after elections) to use their larger amounts of money-as-speech donations to try to dominate elections through media influence, both by donating directly to campaigns, and indirectly to PACs and SuperPACs.  

I find myself wondering, but cannot find direct research to support or refute it, if this has so discouraged the individual voter as to their capacity to participate in government as to contribute significantly to our voter apathy.  It certainly suggests that for a variety of reasons, Michele Bachmann has a diminished base, but also that this is reflected in part in lower voter turnout beyond her district, as was the case as well in the 2010 election which had an increase in voter turnout for some states, but a decrease in others, ending up around 43% voter participation. 

Specifically, there were significant declines in voter participation among some groups more than others – notably younger voters and minorities, where there had been an increase in voter participation in 2008.  This is one of the currently under-represented demographics from which we should look to improve our voter participation percentages:

But the bad news is what voices are being heard or not heard. Voting turnout rates were down among young voters (18-29) and blacks made up a lower percentage of voters in 2010 than in 2008 when Obama’s candidacy excited African-Americans to vote.  For example, blacks made up 12% of voters in 2008 and appeared to make up just 10% of voters in 2010 (based on exit polls).  This drop, if it holds up in more authoritative numbers like the Current Population Survey would  negate this encouraging finding reported in 2008 that the black-white voting gap had disappeared.    [Exit polls suggest that Hispanics maintained their share of the electorate, rising from 7% in 2008 to 8% in 2010, although one would have to compare this rise against their expanding voting-eligible numbers to truly understand whether their political voice was diluted, and if so, how much.]  It wasn’t a simple story of the richest folks’ accounting for more of the votes, since those earning $100,000 or more accounted for 26% of the votes in both 2008 and 2010, but due to the elimination of restrictions on corporate campaign contributions in the wake of the 2010 Citizens United case, the wealthy disproportionately had chances to influence election outcomes even before voters got to their polling places.

If you look at the  changes and attempted changes to voter laws, this is also the demographic that the Republicans and Tea Partiers and other conservatives are most seeking to dispossess from their legal voting rights through voter suppression.

But it goes further than that.  As was noted in the Citizens for Election Integrity Report:   

There is a great racial disparity in disenfranchisement of the voting-age population in Minnesota. One out of 10 voting-age black Minnesotans cannot vote because of a felony conviction while one out of 100 voting-age white Minnesotans cannot vote for that same reason.

Since 1974, the disenfranchisement rate for felons in Minnesota has increased over 700 percent. 

That latter figure, the increase in felon disenfranchisement of 700%, is not unique to Minnesota; it is as high or higher in other states.  In the latter half of the 20th century, this increased in the Richard Nixon’s era; there was a significant change in the categorization of crimes as felonies through legislation.  The result of those changes was to make what had previously been misdemeanors into the more serious criminal category of felonies.  This change, usually under the guise of getting tough on crime, resulted in a hugely disproportionate effect on different demographic populations (see above).  But more significantly, it began to affect election outcomes by drastically changing the population base of legal voters.  Effectively, this made felons out of individuals who previously had only committed misdemeanors, even though the crime was the same, and the degree of seriousness in terms of harm or frequency was essentially the same.  In other words, the crimes themselves did not become more serious, only the level of penalty did.  

This legislative trend continued regardless of an increase or decrease in crime.  There are scholars who argue that the trend to make more crimes felonies, because the pattern does not appear to have a causal correlation to increases or decreases in crime rates, was not really about being tougher on crime, it was an attempt to reverse the gains made by blacks and other minorities in voting rights. 

The use of disenfranchisement to target specifically removing the voting rights of minorities, particularly blacks, goes back a long way.  This example provides an overview of Virginia legislation, but it is true in varying but significant degrees in all 50 states and DC.  In Virginia it affects 1 in 5 blacks, in Minnesota it is 1 in 10:

…the state’s modern history of felon disenfranchisement dates back to 1870 when, after the adoption of the  Fifteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote to all, Virginia lawmakers added the felon disenfranchisement provision to the Virginia Constitution.  At the time, scores of former slaves were being arrested and convicted of crimes, and the lawmakers knew that the felon disenfranchisement provision would have an adverse impact on black Virginians.

Efforts to disenfranchise minority voters continued with the 1901 Constitutional Convention when legislators, who were still intent on denying the vote to African-Americans, also mandated the poll tax and a literacy test as requirements to vote.  And, as the policy’s originators intended, felon disenfranchisement continues to disproportionately impact minority communities today. In Virginia, one in five African-American adults is disenfranchised. (pdf)

The number of disenfranchised people continues to grow, and our current “tough on crime” justice system contributes to that increase.  Each year, legislators classify more and more crimes as felonies, ensuring that more individuals are denied the right to vote, potentially for the rest of their lives.  A quick search of the Virginia code shows that there are over 240 references to a class 6 felony, which happens to be the penalty if someone were to steal a chicken valued between $5 and $200, or a goat valued at less than $200.

The majority of people convicted of felonies are not murderers, and many may not even serve time in prison.  The vast majority of disenfranchised persons are no longer incarcerated, have “paid their debt to society” and are tax-paying citizens with jobs and families who are involved in their communities. They deserve the right to vote and have a say in who represents them.

In addition to being the just thing to do, restoring voting rights is sound policy.  Restoring voting rights reduces crime.  Research shows that individuals who vote after completing their sentences are half as likely to commit another crime as those who do not vote. (pdf)  Additionally, law enforcement officials have recognized that successful offender re-entry and civic participation are connected.  The Brennan Center for Justice reports that the American Probation and Parole Association released a resolution calling for restoration of voting rights upon completion of prison, finding that “disenfranchisement laws work against the successful re-entry of offenders.”

While other discriminatory measures aimed at barring African-Americans from voting, such as poll taxes and literacy tests, have been repealed, felony disenfranchisement continues.

The studies done by Uggens and Manza, notably their 2002 study, was an extraordinary analysis of the results of disenfranchisement on elections.  The results of that study are built upon in subsequent studies:

Uggens and Manza (2002), for example, recently found felon disenfranchisement policies have significantly altered U.S. Senate election results, and may have influenced presidential elections as well. Clearly, by depriving 2.4 million people of their right to vote, election outcomes are impacted. …Many disenfranchised voters are Democrats, and as Uggens and Manza (2002) note, Al Gore would have likely beaten George Bush in 2000 had any of a number of disenfranchised groups had the right to vote in that election, not to mention numerous competitive elections at lower levels of government…..The prison population has a disproportionate number of minorities, uneducated, and poor, compared to the general population (Irwin, 1970, Schmallenger, 2005).  While the 2000 U.S. Census reports that non-white population in the United States is fewer than 20% of the total, ethnic and racial minorities account for two-thirds of the prison population (Sentencing Project, 2004; see also Kennedy 1997; Mauer 1999).

Although I do not have the studies to hand in order to quote their meticulous analysis, it would also be likely that Al Gore would have defeated George W. Bush in 2000, if LEGAL voters had not been improperly denied their right to vote through voter roll purges.  The distinction here is between long term changes to the population of legal voters, versus last minute quick and dirty attempts to alter elections by changes to the legal voter rolls.

Other studies, like the above Political and Demographic Explanations of Felon Disenfranchisement in the States, seeks to understand how this happened, by looking at two factors:

Specifically, our model examines the internal characteristics in the scope of felon disenfranchise policy along two substantive areas: 1) POLITICAL (government and citizen ideology, party competition, and political culture) and 2) DEMOGRAPHIC (size of prison population, size of minority population, proportion of population over 65, average state education level, and urbanization).

The Abstract of the above scholarly analysis notes a change in numbers; when Uggens and Manza had done their analysis prior to 2002, (quoted in this research), the number of felons was 2.4 million; now it is approximately 5 million, and growing. 

Nearly 5 million Americans are currently deprived of their right to vote as a result of state laws which prohibit voting by felons and ex-felons.  With the exception of Maine and Vermont, every state denies incarcerated individuals the right to vote, and in 12 states felons are permanently banned from voting (Sentencing Project 2004).  This research explores the political and demographic factors that influence the probability of a state adopting more or less stringent laws regarding a felon’s right to vote.

So there is clearly a direct connection between our clearly legal voting citizens who are allowed to vote, our minority citizens who are disproportionately denied the right to vote by Republicans in a manner which alters election results in favor of Republicans, affecting both legal and previously legal voters.

From the Review of Policy Research, the Wiley On-line Library

Voter Disenfranchisement and Policy toward Election Reforms

  1. Anne Kiehl Friedman

Article first published online: 29 NOV 2005

DOI: 10.1111/j.1541-1338.2005.00176.x


Review of Policy Research

Volume 22Issue 6, pages 787–810, November 2005

Abstract How did poverty, race, population density, and other demographic characteristics affect disenfranchisement in the 2004 presidential election? I argue that there are two types of disenfranchisement: partisan disenfranchisement, which targets Democrats, and structural disenfranchisement, which targets members of low-status groups. Drawing demographic data from the United States census in 2000, and voting data from the secretaries of state websites, I use a negative binomial regression to correlate these variables with the incidence of voter disenfranchisement as collected by the Election Incident Reporting System, for the three “swing” states of Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania, with the “safe” states of California and Texas as controls. The results of this analysis indicate that disenfranchisement increases with population density, Black population, Democratic loyalty, and as the margin of victory decreases. Income and education also correlate with an increase in reported incidents of disenfranchisement, but that likely reflects the failings of self-report data.

We are not the land of the free that we aspire to be, that we like to claim to be.

Government of the people, by the people, for the people, as proclaimed by the great Republican President Abraham Lincoln is under attack — from Republicans. 

We are the land of the disenfranchised and the incarcerated, we are the land of the apathetic citizen who does not vote, in alarming numbers in contrast to other nations, even when we can vote in honest elections. The change we need to make is towards more and better representative government, by encouraging and enabling a greater number of our citizens to vote, not by discouraging more of them from voting.  The last thing we need is by more voter suppression; we need the opposite, voter encouragement and a renewal of faith in an effective system.