One person, one vote. We all learned that in school. Then we learned that initially it applied only to white male landowners. It took amendments to the Constitution to get non-whites and women the right to vote. Those rights took years and much effort to secure. Now some in this country are trying to limit these rights, claiming they are combating voter fraud. Laws have been passed in many states that require picture IDs to vote. Study after study in state after state has failed to identify a significant number of cases of voter fraud. Instead, large numbers of legitimate voters will be disenfranchised.
These laws have a consequence. People of color, the elderly and poor, especially rural poor, are less likely to be able to obtain picture IDs because they cannot get or have difficulty getting birth certificates or other documents. Courts have ruled these voter suppression efforts to be illegal because they disproportionately affect minorities.
People are losing a right that we hold so dear, a right protected by the many who have served in the military, many of whom lost their lives. Take the case of Viviette Applewhite, a 93-year-old U.S. citizen who has voted in nearly every election since 1960. She lost her birth certificate and Social Security card when her purse was stolen. A new law in Pennsylvania denied her right to vote. She has filed a lawsuit, which is pending. She finally received a replacement birth certificate but will need to visit a Social Security office in her wheelchair. Not everyone who is denied their right to vote will be able to obtain the needed documents. Many were not issued a state birth certificate, including those born at home with the assistance of a midwife.
Certainly many will be discouraged and not willing to make the extra effort. But is this unfortunate consequence of disenfranchising these particular groups of underserved people an accident? I don’t believe so. These laws are introduced by Republican legislators and passed by Republican-controlled legislatures. The affected people are less likely to vote for Republicans.
One person, one vote. Should it not mean that we all have the same ability to influence who is elected and what laws are passed? We are rapidly moving away from anything that looks like this.
Money plays a large role in elections. Every campaign for public office takes increasingly large amounts of money. While the best-funded campaign does not always win, having a large campaign treasure chest is a huge advantage.
It is bad enough that individual candidate supporters can contribute large amounts to campaigns, because these large donations are likely to influence how winning candidates vote on legislation. Minimally, they provide great access.
It is abundantly clear that large investments in candidates by interest groups influence legislation. Now, thanks to the Citizens United decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, corporations have the same rights as citizens to contribute to PACs that support or oppose candidates. Corporations can spend huge amounts of money and gain huge amounts of influence. These donations are not required to be made public. Stockholders don’t have the right to know how their money is being spent.
Now we have two problems: disenfranchised voters and unequal opportunity to influence laws. Republicans support the Citizen United decision. Why? It appears to be because corporations largely support Republican candidates who are then expected to vote “correctly.” Many Democrats also benefit from PACs.
Should we care? Damn right! Republicans have consistently opposed regulation of business. While it is true that overregulation can be bad for business, and thus the economy and the rest of us, lack of appropriate regulation has led to scandals at the large banks, insurance companies, mortgage companies and Wall Street companies. Abuses have hurt all of us. The real estate, banking and Wall Street crises are the prime reasons for the recession. Even after those debacles we still have the greedy and loosely regulated fools behaving badly.
Publicly funded state and local elections have worked well in a few states. It is time to take personal and corporate money out of the process of electing those who are supposed to represent us and make laws in the public interest.