The on-going presidential election process in the US has bared the mainstream politics’ face more manifestly than any other recent growth. The exposure is so stark that the mainstream discourse is admitting a few facts in its style, and this acknowledgement is unmistakable.
Free and fair election is at risk
Larry Diamond, author of Ill Winds: Saving Democracy from Russian Rage, Chinese Ambition, and American Complacency, and senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, writes in The New York Times, which is liberally quoted below:
“As this Tuesday’s consequential election nears, my fellow democracy experts and I have often been asked: What is the right historical analogy to America’s current crisis? The truth is, there is no precedent. We have never seen such a longstanding democracy in such a rich country break down before — never. [….]
[….] [T]he third pillar [of American democracy] — free and fair elections — is under far more direct threat than my fellow democracy experts predicted.
[….] The president has repeatedly called to “lock up” or arrest his political rivals, but the Justice Department — compromised its leadership at the top — has not complied.
Mr. Trump has relentlessly denounced the news media as the “enemy of the people,” [….].
Mr. Trump has inflicted more damage to the rule of law. [….] He has replaced five inspectors general investigating wrongdoing in his administration, withheld his tax returns, pardoned his political allies convicted of felonies, and normalized lying and inflammatory tweets as modes of presidential communication. And recently he issued an executive order undermining the political neutrality and career protections of thousands of senior civil servants.
But the third pillar of our democracy — the one we have most taken for granted — is most at risk: free and fair elections. [….]
The integrity of the election is further challenged by the rising pace of voter suppression. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act, throwing out the formula requiring nine states (and other localities) with a history of racist voter suppression to obtain federal permission before changing their voting requirements. Since then, these and other Republican-controlled states have imposed legal and administrative changes that have made voting more difficult for Black Americans, Hispanics, young people and city dwellers — all heavily Democratic constituencies.
It would be undemocratic enough for the loser of the national popular vote to again be elected (for the third time in the past seven presidential elections) by winning the Electoral College. [….] And if Mr. Trump failed to win the Electoral College but was nonetheless declared president thanks to partisan electors, it would signify a grave breakdown of American democracy — even if people remained free to speak, write and publish as they pleased.
[….] No other advanced democracy falls so short of contemporary democratic standards of fairness, neutrality and rationality in its system of administering national elections.
The United States has no comparable standing authority to investigate national-level corruption, and Congress largely investigates and punishes itself.
[….] The result is that American democracy lacks national checks on executive corruption and national guarantees of electoral integrity that have become routine in other democracies around the world. [….]
Today, we are far closer to a breakdown than most democracy experts, myself included, would have dared anticipate just a few years ago. Even if we are spared the worst, it is long past time to renew the mechanisms of our democracy, learn from other democracies around the world and again make our republic a shining city on a hill. (“When it comes to democracy, the U.S. is showing its age”, November 1, 2020)
The way Larry Diamond identifies democracy is another issue, which is not discussed/dissected here. But, no doubt, the way Larry Diamond identifies democracy in the opinion piece, bourgeois democracy, is in, to talk in a softer way, trouble in one of the advanced bourgeois political systems in the world system.
There in the advanced bourgeois democracy is the voter suppression, which a part of the mainstream discusses. Terrance Smith writes:
Voter suppression has been a part of the United States political scene since the nation’s inception. From Jim Crow laws to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, citizens of the United States, particularly communities of color, have been disenfranchised in blatant and subtle ways.
However, voter suppression has been a tool historically used to deter Black Americans and other minorities from voting.
“It is important to acknowledge that it has always, or almost for the entire history of our country, been about race, that voter suppression has been inextricably intertwined with an attempt to stop first Black men, and since then other people of color from voting,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of Voting Rights and Elections at the Brennan Center, told ABC News.
Terrance Smith presents a timeline of voter suppression in the US from the post-Civil War era to the present day:
After the Civil War, three amendments – the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, part of Congressional Reconstruction – were passed, designed to ensure equality for African Americans in the South.
However, it wasn’t until the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, that states were prohibited from “from disenfranchising voters ‘on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.’”
The 15th Amendment, however, did not provide automatic voting rights for African Americans. Congress did not provide enforcement for the 15th Amendment immediately. Tennessee was the last state to formally ratify the amendment in 1997. [Yes, in 1997, seven years after the imperialist world cheered with the emergence of “newly democratic states” in the eastern and central Europe.] Voting rights were also denied for those convicted of crimes through felon disenfranchisement laws.
By 1870, 28 states had adopted a version of these laws prohibiting convicted felons the right to vote, according to the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, a peer-reviewed study published by the Northwestern University School of Law. Some states still enact these laws. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only two states, Maine and Vermont, gives everyone the uninhibited right to vote. Three states currently disenfranchise felons from voting permanently: Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia.
Southern states also enforced rules commonly known as the Jim Crow laws, which mandated segregation in public places, particularly between white and Black Americans. Poll tax was one of the Jim Crow laws.
Poll taxes discouraged those who could not afford to pay from voting and were a prerequisite to register to vote in Jim Crow states. Poll taxes disproportionately affected Black voters – a large population in the antebellum South.
Poll taxes continued into the 20th century. As of 1964, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia clung to poll taxes, reported The New York Times in a Jan. 24, 1964 article.
Literacy tests were also implemented to stop those who were uneducated from participating in the voting process. Literacy tests were administered at the discretion of those in charge of voter registration and often discriminated against African Americans. Literary tests asked civics questions such as “In which document or writing is the Bill of Rights found?” or “Name two of the purposes of the U.S. Constitution” as found in a 1965 Alabama literacy test. African Americans who took part in these test were descendants of slaves who were not allowed to read or write in several states due to anti-literacy laws. [Are such tests in Bangladesh, India, Cuba, China, Russia, Venezuela and many other countries? Although “democracy”-lords from both sides of the Atlantic regularly sermon these countries: “This should be done, and that shouldn’t be done.”]
White men who could not pass the literacy tests were able to vote due to the “Grandfather Clause” allowing them to participate in voting if their grandfathers voted by 1867, according to NPR.
That grandfather clause was ruled unconstitutional in 1915. Poll taxes were abolished in 1964 with the 24th Amendment and literacy tests were outlawed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 19th Amendment was the first amendment that assured women in the United States the right to vote […]
However, when ratified 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment did not guarantee Black women the right to vote.
According to National Geographic, “In fall 1920, many Black women showed up at the polls.” In Kent County, Delaware, their numbers were “unusually large,” according to Wilmington’s News Journal, but officials turned away Black women who “failed to comply with the constitutional tests.”
Gerrymandering is also considered to be another form of voter suppression as it is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to divide or arrange (a territorial unit) into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage.”
Christina Greer, an associate professor of Political Science at Fordham University, said gerrymandering “ultimately does hinder people from the right to vote.”
“[It] either dilutes their vote, or it makes it hyper-concentrated so it dilutes in other places. It’s packing and cracking and you can use mathematical solutions to look at a state, and look at where people of color are, especially Black people in a particular area distributed throughout the state,” Greer said. “And you can make districts where you can either pack them all into one or two districts.”
In some states like Maryland, according to the Brennan Center, after 2010 United States Census redistricting, “The Sixth District was overpopulated by about 17,414 people as Maryland started the 2010 redistricting cycle.” Furthermore, “Democratic map drawers, rather than tweak the district at the edges to achieve the population parity that the Constitution requires, moved a total of 711,162 people into or out of the district […] more than 40 times the number needed to meet population equality requirements.”
The Center for American Progress released a report earlier this summer, which focused on how partisan gerrymandering has limited voting rights. In the Republican-controlled legislature in the state of Wisconsin, gerrymandering “shifted control of the state Assembly outright in 2018, from Democrats who won a majority of the statewide votes to Republicans who fell short of a majority. In the Senate, Democrats fell 1% short of a majority of the vote, likely because of aggressive voter suppression targeting communities that disproportionately support Democrats.”
[T]he fight to get more people to vote and the progress after the Voting Rights Act came to a halt after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, changed the way the Voting Rights Act was implemented nationwide.
In a 5-4 decision, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court.
While Jim Crow laws were banned nationwide because of the act, the floodgates were opened to allow states across the country to implement “massive dents” to the voting infrastructure in the United States, according to the Brennan Center.
Since 2010 before the decision, 25 states have put into place new requirements such as voter ID laws, closing polling places and cutbacks to early voting, as per the Brennan Center.
In 2019, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a new bill restoring key sections of the Voting Rights Act, but it has yet to be brought to the floor in the U.S. Senate (In 2020, the bill was named the John Lewis Act, to honor the late civil rights champion).
Amy McKeever wrote in National Geographic (Top of Form
“Voter suppression has haunted America since it was founded”, August 21, 2020):
On August 12, 1890, more than a hundred men gathered in the Mississippi state capital for a constitutional convention. In his opening speech, Judge Solomon Saladin Calhoon, president of the convention, charged the delegates with a single task: devise a way to keep Black men from voting in Mississippi.
“This ballot system must be so arranged as to effect one object,” he said. Twenty years after the passage of the 14th and 15th Amendments granted Black Americans citizenship and gave Black men the right to vote, “we find the two races now together, the rule of one of which has always meant economic and moral ruin; we find another race whose rule has always meant prosperity and happiness, and prosperity and happiness to all races.”
These words ushered in 75 years of systemic voter suppression in the United States marked by poll taxes, literacy tests, and violence directed toward Black people who attempted to vote. But this wasn’t the first time in U.S. history that those in power have disenfranchised others who they feared would wrest it away — nor was it the last.
Voter suppression has once again become part of the national conversation in the 2020 presidential election. President Donald Trump drew criticism in August when he acknowledged he opposed additional funding for the U.S. Postal Service because a lack of resources would impede voting by mail during the coronavirus pandemic. [….]
Amy McKeever questions and answers:
What exactly is voter suppression and how have its methods changed over time? It started with the Founding Fathers’ fateful decision not to enshrine the right to vote in the U.S. Constitution.
In 1787, the Founding Fathers wrestled over how to address suffrage in the U.S. Constitution. At the time, voting was restricted to wealthy white landowners. The framers debated whether it should be extended to commoners who had joined arms with them in the American Revolution, but who might overrule their interests. Ultimately, the question was punted to the states in Article I, Section 4, of the Constitution, which declares: “The times, places and manner of holding elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by law make or alter such regulations.”
American University historian Allan Lichtman writes that this decision had “profound, lasting consequences for American democracy.” By not giving U.S. citizens an explicit constitutional right to vote, the Founding Fathers effectively decoupled voting rights from citizenship and denied those whom states barred from voting any recourse through the federal government.
In the years that followed, voter requirements varied wildly according to the whims and prejudices of individual states. While most expanded eligibility at first — and ultimately provided near-universal suffrage for white men — states began to impose new restrictions. In 1800, only five of 16 states had instituted white-only voting, yet from 1802 onward, every new free or slave state to join the Union except for Maine banned Black people from voting. In 1807, New Jersey, which originally gave voting rights to “all inhabitants,” passed a law to disenfranchise women and Black men. Maryland banned Jewish people from its polls until 1828.
When the Civil War ended in 1865, however, the federal government waded back into the issue. During Reconstruction, Congress passed a series of constitutional amendments to guarantee the rights of formerly enslaved people, including the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, which prohibited denying the vote based on “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” But it left states in charge of elections — and many of them soon set out to suppress these new rights.
In the Reconstruction era, political life opened up in the South. Though women were still unable to vote, as were many immigrants and Native Americans, Black men gained power in some parts of the South. Mississippi even sent two Black men to the U.S. Senate as representatives of the Republican Party, of which Black men formed an overwhelming majority in the South. (For Black women, the 19th Amendment didn’t end their fight to vote.)
White Democrats chafed at this loss of control. In 1875, Mississippi Democrats launched a campaign of intimidation at the polls that succeeded in restoring white Democrats to power in Mississippi by 1881. Hoping to keep it that way, they convened a state constitutional convention in 1890. As historian Dorothy Overstreet Pratt writes, Democrats “widely admitted” the convention was designed to circumvent the 15th Amendment. Leveraging the state’s power to determine how and when elections would be held, the new state constitution instituted tactics such as poll taxes and literacy tests designed specifically to shut out Black voters to whom they denied the education and economic opportunities needed to clear these hurdles. The convention’s lone Black delegate — Isaiah Montgomery, a member of a wealthy and well-educated family — chided his colleagues for their rigid racial views but ultimately delivered a speech in support of their efforts, which Overstreet Pratt notes was the “most puzzling aspect of the convention” but might be attributed to his family’s wealth and status.
Within about five years, the other Southern states followed Mississippi’s lead and enacted their own restrictive laws, known as Jim Crow laws, which they paired with continued violence and intimidation to suppress the Black vote. These tactics worked. By 1892, Mississippi had cut the percentage of eligible Black men who were registered to vote from more than 90 percent to less than 6 percent. Black citizens were equally disenfranchised across the South and the conservative Southern Democratic Party surged to power. For the next 70 years, white supremacists continued to use these voter suppression tactics to ensure their rule.
By the 1960s, however, more than a decade of protests, nonviolent resistance, and voter registration efforts that took place during the civil rights movement yielded federal intervention. In 1964, the states ratified the 24th Amendment, which prohibited poll taxes. Then, in 1965, the Voting Rights Act barred the remainder of the voter suppression tactics that states had been using and established federal oversight over localities with histories of voter discrimination.
[….] Yet voter suppression has become an increasing point of contention in the last two decades as state legislatures institute new rules for running elections, and as federal oversight has been eroded.
After Democratic President Lyndon Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, Southern Democrats defected in great numbers to the Republican Party and the political parties realigned. In recent decades, Republican-led state legislatures nationwide have introduced a variety of new restrictions, which make it more difficult to cast a vote. Some require voters to first obtain identification or proof of citizenship; others purge inactive names from the rolls of registered voters; and still others have shortened early voting periods or limited access to absentee and mail-in voting. In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back a key provision of the Voting Rights Act provision that gave federal authorities oversight of districts based on their histories of voter discrimination, which had long prevented such regulations.
States argue these measures are designed to reduce election fraud. Trump, too, says he is concerned about electoral fraud, though in March 2020 he said one of the reasons he does not support vote-by-mail is because he believes wider participation means “you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” While some believe mail-in voting and other policies that increase voter turnout benefit Democrats, a recent Stanford study found it does not advantage either party.
Modern Democrats, however, worry that all of these measures — from voter ID laws to restricting mail-in voting — are a new form of voter suppression. In 2018, the bipartisan and independent U.S. Commission on Civil Rights released a comprehensive report declaring that these procedures “wrongly prevent some citizens from voting” and “have a disparate impact on voters of color and poor voters.” It found that states with strict voter ID laws correlate with an increased gap between white and minority voters; that proof-of-citizenship laws place an undue burden by requiring citizens to pay fees to obtain those documents; and that cutting early voting creates long lines that limit minority citizens’ access to the polls.
As lawsuits challenging these restrictive practices wend their way through the courts, the civil rights commission urged Congress to restore the Voting Rights Act’s federal oversight. “The right to vote is the bedrock of American democracy,” the report noted, adding, “Racial discrimination in voting has proven to be a particularly pernicious and enduring American problem.”
There in the advanced bourgeois democracy, other forms of voter suppression. James Rainey writes in Los Angeles Times (“‘There is a voter-suppression wing’: An ugly American tradition clouds the 2020 presidential race”, October 24, 2020):
A Memphis, Tenn., poll worker turned away people wearing Black Lives Matter T-shirts, saying they couldn’t vote. Robocalls warned thousands of Michigan residents that mail-in voting could put their personal information in the hands of debt collectors and police. In Georgia, officials cut polling places by nearly 10%, even as the number of voters surged by nearly 2 million.
The long American tradition of threatening voting access — often for Black people and Latinos — has dramatically resurfaced in 2020, this time buttressed by a record-setting wave of litigation and an embattled president whose reelection campaign is built around a strategy of sowing doubt and confusion.
“We have an incredibly polarized country and we have a political party whose leader thinks it’s to the party’s advantage to make it harder for people to register to vote and to vote,” said Richard L. Hasen, a UC Irvine law professor and authority on voting. “So that is where we are.”
“Many heard a call for voter intimidation […] a fear bolstered by the actions of armed white right-wing militias that have garnered support from the president in recent months as they confronted anti-racist protesters,” the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund wrote in an early October letter to Atty. Gen. William Barr and FBI Director Christopher A. Wray.
State and federal courts have rendered mixed verdicts in voting access cases this fall. Judges have consistently rejected allegations of fraud, but some have ruled against broader voting access or extended ballot tabulations, in order to avoid altering the rules close to election day.
The result has been a series of court actions that make it harder to complete a ballot or limit the counting of ballots received after November 3. [….]
Republicans are trying to prevent changes to allow the counting of ballots that arrive after November 3 in three other battleground states — Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota. In Georgia, another closely contested state, an appellate court rejected a plea to allow ballots received after 7 p.m. on election day to be tallied. The court cited a past high court ruling that admonished against late electoral changes.
And the litigation promised to continue every day until November 3 and beyond. On Friday, the GOP went to court to try to stop the counting of mail-in votes in Nevada. The party said it needs observers to scrutinize the process, in a state where Democrats have mailed in more than two times as many ballots as Republicans.
Several rulings this year have been premised on the “Purcell principle,” a doctrine stemming from a 2006 case in which the U.S. Supreme Court suggested that federal judges typically should not alter rules close to an election, lest they confuse voters and confound the rules made by state election officials.
But in a measure of the topsy-turvy nature of the eleventh-hour rulings, the high court produced a different result in a Pennsylvania case. With the court deadlocked 4 to 4, it fell one vote shy of the majority needed to overturn a decision by the state Supreme Court. That means absentee ballots from Pennsylvania, mailed before Nov. 3, will be counted even if they are received up to three days after election day.
The most visible signs of voting obstacles emerged not in the courts but in the streets outside hundreds of early voting centers. Several states have not opened enough early voting locations to accommodate an unprecedented surge that saw more than 52.7 million Americans cast their ballots — by mail or in person — by Friday afternoon.
Photos from Florida have shown voters lined up in the pouring rain waiting for their turn inside a polling site. In Georgia, voters have queued up for blocks, with some reporting they waited as long as 11 hours.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that waits were substantially longer in poor and Black neighborhoods, where many polling places were overcrowded and understaffed. A review by Georgia Public Broadcasting and ProPublica found 10% fewer voting locations statewide since 2013, even as the number of younger, nonwhite voters climbed in recent years.
“Voter suppression is preventing many from casting their ballots,” Martin Luther King III, the son of the civil rights icon, wrote on Twitter, including a link to voting information. Added the Atlanta resident: “Be prepared to protect your rights.”
A sense of anxiety and fear of tumultuous conclusion hung over the balloting, like no election in memory.
In Philadelphia this week, state officials chastised Trump operatives for videotaping voters while they deposited their ballots in drop boxes; Pennsylvania’s attorney general warned that the filming could intimidate voters.
In Florida, sheriff’s deputies arrested a 33-year-old white man who was yelling racial slurs and talking about terrorism outside the African-American Research Library & Cultural Center in Fort Lauderdale, an early-voting location in a largely Black neighborhood.
A long and complex story
With liberally quoting the mainstream, not from the Left or radical literature, the face of the electoral process is partially evident. There are other parts, not discussed here, that help lay bare the rest of the story named bourgeois politics. The entire story is long and complex. Expecting an easy grasp of the bourgeois politics is a misplaced hope. Efforts to grasp the reality lead to superficial conclusion – free democracy, free and fair election. Such superficial conclusion rules bourgeois propaganda and scholarship, and confuse a part of the progressives, who deny looking at the class nature of politics – serve a particular class interest. This failure of facing the fact of politics creates cheap slogans, confusing political programs, chattering; and none of these help the poor, the exploited – the majority in all exploitation and class-based societies.
The point regularly missed by the mainstream scholars and a group of progressives is harsher: What can be the state of democracy in the Third and Fourth Worlds (TFW) if the state of bourgeois democracy is this, as has been cited with long, liberally quoted examples here and preceding two parts, in one of the most advanced bourgeois democracies? In the TFWs, the democracy is basically of the varieties of plundering/pseudo-/neo-colonial/medieval-, and with many other tags showing those systems’ working style. But, these are all essentially and effectively of the exploiting classes, the classes that exploit, plunder, pilfer, and thieves and robbers to the core.
Farooque Chowdhury writes from Dhaka, Bangladesh.