Throughout the United States’ history, eligibility to vote has never been clear or universal. Demonstrations, protests, and advocacy have been continuously necessary to finally have enacted the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th amendments to the U.S. Constitution, giving more people access to the vote. After the Voting Rights Act of1965 was passed, many thought the battle for universal suffrage was complete.
The 2013 Supreme Court decision invalidating Section 4 of the 1965 Act has led to a renewal of the kinds of voter suppression tactics the act was intended to end.
Today closure of voting locations, purges of voters from voter rolls, arcane voter ID laws, confusing ballots, gerrymandered districts, and myriad other tactics to limit people’s ability to cast a ballot are rampant. It remains to be seen what the result will be in the fateful elections of 2020.
In many states formerly incarcerated individuals are able to have their right to vote restored after serving their sentence. But the requirement to present identification documents can be a problem for many returning citizens. Many do not have a birth certificate copy, or social security card, driver’s license or even a state issued ID. Without these documents it is almost impossible to register to vote and obtaining these documents can be time consuming, confusing, and expensive.
Our Vote Reentry Project addresses this challenge by providing the information and forms returning citizens need to get the Maryland identification documents they need. In many cases fees can be waived for low income residents. The Navigating Reentry website is an excellent resource for service providers who assist individuals with this process.
Follow this link to access the Navigating Barriers to Reentry website.
In addition to who gets to vote, how we vote is equally important.
The United States uses a winner-take-all form of voting, often referred to as First Past The Post (FPTP or FPP) voting. Basically, it means that the person who gets the most votes wins the election. This is the simplest process and works reasonably well in election contests between 2 candidates. But in reality, not many decision or elections are reduced to a choice of only two.
Years ago, a Sesame Street Magazine article presented an exercise about voting. It showed six children: four had raised their hands to play tag, two had their hands down because they wanted to play hide-and-seek. The question was: what game will the children play?
As adults, we know the answer to this question. But the child doing the exercise exclaimed, “They will play both. First they will play tag. Then they will play hide-and-seek.” (The Tyranny of the Majority, Guinier,1994 pg 2)
As children we are taught to share; to “take turns”. When your child goes out for soccer, everyone plays; even those who aren’t very athletic. Everyone is represented. But in our version of “democratic process” that is not the way it works.
A question arises as to what exactly “majority” means when applying the word to elections. Is it “the most” or “more than 50%”? Dictionaries provide both definitions. But which definition is most fair when talking about elections? Which is more democratic, and results in the representation of the most people?
This has been the reality for so long in this country that not many people even think about it. But there are those who are critical of the process. And there are countries that use quite different processes to select their representatives.
Many European countries use some form of proportional representation to elect their representatives. In this example from the Electoral Reform Society one can see the many ways proportional representation can be ordered and implemented.
The Our Vote Alternative Voting Methods explores the many creative alternatives in use and contemplated to make elections fairer and more representative of the will of all the people.