Voting Rights | June-August 2017    



Many politicians are continually seeking ways to limit voting to those folks who will support their agenda. This can be done in many ways.

First: One of the more obvious is by gerrymandering districts so that voting districts are set up so areas that have a one-sided vote for the opposition are confined to a limited number of districts and the remaining districts are made up of areas where a small majority of the voters will favor the party in power. These are often easily spotted on a map of voting districts. For example, just look at the snaky long and narrow district that runs from Sarasota to St. Petersburg which just happens to include areas which have a very high percentage of black people. This District almost always votes for a democrat by a large majority but several districts around it that have a large percentage of white voters , a small majority of whom almost always vote Republican. Thus the overall area of say 5 districts usually elects 4 republicans and only one democrat though the plurality for the whole area may be almost even or even lean toward democrats.

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Gerrymandering is not new but it has been greatly increased in a number of traditional battleground states such as Michigan, North Carolina, Wisconsin, Florida and Virginia in recent years. Associate Press analysis has found four times as many states with Republican-skewed districts than Democratic ones and among the two dozen most populated states that determine the vast majority of Congress, there were nearly three times as many Republican-tilted U. S. House districts. The analysis also showed that Republicans won as many as 22 additional U.S. House seats over what would have been expected based on average voter shares in the country. Therefore, this factor alone gives Republicans a sizeable majority even though total votes cast were about equal for the two parties nation-wide.

Second: State actions allowing actions against voting rights. Conservatives in many states, especially in the South, have taken advantage of a decision made by the Supreme Court several years ago that set aside actions against voting rights violations in a number of jurisdictions as an excuse for taking steps to make it more difficult to vote. Some common actions taken by the state legislature include:

  1. Requiring identification papers that are difficult for some people (especially poor people or some elderly folks) who do not have driver licenses or passports.
  2. Using the excuse that they are saving money, jurisdictions reduce the number of polling places in the districts which just happen to be in the areas where there are a lot of poor people or people of color. Thus the lines are very long in these districts which discourage people from voting or even make it impossible for some people to vote who are unable to leave their jobs for long enough to take the time to vote.
  3. Limiting the voting period, especially by excluding Sunday voting, so that people who have menial jobs have difficulty getting to the voting place. Also, many churches and other organizations that offer rides to voters who do not have transportation are available mainly on Sundays.
  4. Setting stringent rules on voter’s signatures on mail-in ballots and disqualifying some votes on this basis without guaranteeing that hand writing experts are doing the checking.
  5. Making it difficult for advocacy groups to carry on registration drives.
  6. Using various scary tactics making it difficult to change your voting address if you have moved.
  7. Attempts to keep college students from voting
  8. Placing severe restrictions on voting by former felons. In Florida, for example, felons cannot vote until at least 5 years after they are released from prison and, even then, they must apply for and go through strenuous vetting before they have a chance of regaining their right to vote.

There is no doubt that all efforts should be made to ensure that only properly registered folks should be allowed to vote but this does not mean that attempts should be made to block people from registering or that once properly registered, folks should be harassed by restrictive practices or inaccessibility of voting times or places.

So what can we do to counter these politically motivated actions?

  • Through the national program of “Standing on the Side of Love”, UUs have been actively protesting new restrictions on voting rights. We can join in the protest or help the protest groups with our financial support.
  • We can commemorate the historical efforts that were made to gain voting rights and participate in efforts to educate folks about the need for continually monitoring the observance of these rights. For example, we can work in partnership with other organizations, such as ACLU and NAACP, to ensure that voter rights are protected.
  • We can tell our senators and congressmen to improve and extend the voting rights act through new legislation.
  • Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we can actively oppose the politicians who are using voting rights as a weapon to reduce the number of people that might vote against them.
  • We can seek new ways of ensuring a fair election system in our country.
    • For example, perhaps the U.S. President should be chosen by popular vote country-wide rather than through the electoral system. This could be accomplished by a constitutional amendment which would be difficult to pass because states have an equal vote on a constitutional amendment and states with a small population would, no doubt, oppose such an amendment.
    • Another way to have one-person, one vote in electing our president is for states with a majority of the electoral votes to join in a compact to vote for the candidate that wins the majority vote. Ten states (California, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington) and the District of Columbia with a total of 165 electoral votes have already done so. If states with 105 electoral votes join them the 50 percent goal will be reached. It would be especially helpful if states that have a large number of electors such as our own would join them.
  • More and more people have become disenchanted with our two- party system and now register as Independents. Unfortunately, Independents do not really have a say on who the parties nominate and independent candidates seldom, if ever, get enough votes to be competitive in a major election. Therefore, moderates and conservatives are locked out in the biggest metro areas, and moderates and liberals are locked out in the heartland. To counter this, there is a movement to have proportional representation through larger districts and/or ranked voting.
    • For example, if there are 5 candidates for a seat (of a party or outside of a party) in the primary people rank each candidate and the 2 or 3 with the highest number of points are voted on in the general election. This system already is used in some cities and counties.
    • Another possibility might be to establish districts with multiple representatives who again can be a party member or not so people can select a more balanced slate. And, finally, the two systems could be combined so as to have broader representation.*