Traditionally fewer people vote in the midterms than in the presidential election years. Turnout will be critically important in this fiercely contested election in a country evenly split between Democrats and Republicans.
Increasing the turnout adds to the integrity of the ballot, safeguards an important freedom for the citizen, and celebrates the inclusion of all Americans, unlike the earlier days of the Republic.
Surprisingly, and remarkably, this is not a view shared by the Republican party and at least 26 of the 50 US states. Efforts to stop people voting in the US vary but historically they have been used for racial, economic, gender, age and disability discrimination.
President Joe Biden is facing an uphill battle against a persistent Republican offensive designed to stop many African Americans, Hispanics, Asians and Native Americans voting in November. Much of the assault on this important freedom – the right to vote – is based on issues of poverty and literacy. Voter suppression on this scale is unique amongst western liberal democracies. This is America’s shame.
Republicans in Congress and the states at all levels are turning their back on the importance of universal suffrage and using it as a political weapon. In most democracies, voting is made as simple as possible, with the absolute minimum of restrictions. But not in America. Republicans and former President Trump have publicly admitted that they lose when elections are free and fair.
Promoting this toxic mix of race, ethnicity, identity and culture, degrades a democracy and disenfranchises millions of people who may see elections and voting as their only opportunity to improve their lives.
A stark reminder of the enduring legacy of racism is the fact that African American families living in the “Dixie” southern states, and the main targets of voter suppression, have endured centuries of racial abuse and discrimination, which is still happening today.
The US is well known for its adherence to Christianity, capitalism and even more so to constitutionalism, which for many is akin to worshipping the ten commandments.
Surprising then that the actions of Republican legislators, in so many states, ignore the 15th Amendment to the constitution which states, “the Right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, colour, or previous condition of servitude” and adds, “the Congress shall have powers to enforce this article by appropriate legislation”. This amendment was ratified on February 3, 1870.
Modern America seems highly selective in which parts of the Constitution it is willing to accept. Despite the Constitution’s embrace of “freedoms”, it lacks any sense of commensurate or accompanying “responsibilities”. The Secondment Amendment is the right to bear arms, or is it a licence to kill? The First Amendment is the right to free speech, or is it a licence to destroy people?
Despite the provisions of the 15th Amendment, minorities are still fighting for the right to vote. The 1965 Voters Rights Act was gutted by the Supreme Court in 2013. Following the withdrawal of federal oversight over electoral activities, some US states have stepped up their efforts to take voter suppression to new levels.
Measures such as voter intimidation, criminalisation of voter registration drives, racially gerrymandering voter districts (constituencies), imposing requirements for voter ID, cutting back on absentee voting, restricting voting times and cutting back on polling stations are all deeply offensive steps. Western democracies wouldn’t tolerate this. But America seems unconcerned about the violation of political rights for over 40 per cent of its population.
In office, former President Trump gave new impetus and legitimacy to the idea, that white is best, and that minorities are second-class Americans, while also claiming that voter fraud was rampant in America, without offering a shred of evidence, even after setting up a discredited commission to investigate the issue. UFO sightings and getting struck by lightning are more common in the US than voter fraud.
But discrimination is only part of this onslaught on an important freedom. The so-called Great Replacement Theory, on whites being in a minority in the US by 2050, may have also persuaded Republicans that they are also running out of white voters and need to do everything possible to stop non-whites voting. This is more like a script for some dystopian tale of America’s future, more white babies, more white voters, what next?
The Democrats have a different electoral challenge in November. To win they must increase the overall electoral turnout, encourage independents to vote Democrat and hope that the more extreme MAGA base continues to be as frightening and fanatical as they currently appear to be. Minorities must vote in greater numbers if the Democrats are to win. With an eye to 2024, the Democratic party must convince US electors that deliberate voter suppression is only one aspect of a wider assault on democracy.
A key freedom is being abused. The 15th Amendment confirmed the right to vote. This is being ignored.
Trump’s doctrine of white nationalism or white supremacy is undermining democracy’s most cherished ideal that all citizens’ votes matter. The Democratic message is clear, if the Republicans can’t win your vote, they will take your vote.
If freedom is to mean anything it must be one person, one vote and the unimpeded ability to use it.
According to the Washington Post, recent polls show that President Biden continues “to be a drag on Democratic candidates”. Voters favour the Republicans on crime, inflation, the economy and immigration, and favour the Democrats on education, abortion and climate change.
Biden’s less credible defence of the economy could be electorally costly. But his battle in November to halt the decline of America’s democracy could be his best and only way to defeat Republicanism.
Henry McLeish is a former First Minister of Scotland