It is clear after these past mid-terms we need the United Nations to monitor our national elections to make certain they are democratically fair. Indeed, the elections proved Americans can be both progressive and regressive.
Not only were there voting irregularities on voting day — machine breakdowns, loss of power, long voting lines, voters turned away at polls — but there were significant efforts at voter suppression as well. When Republicans claim “fraud” in the voting process, the political strategy is to limit or even purge potential voters who may vote for the Democrats.
Yet, be reminded of our history. We are not discussing actual fraud here. No, here, it is the “potential” of fraud.
In the history of our politics, fraud was evident when a voter may have voted more than once, or a dead person’s name was used for voting. This happened most infamously in corrupt politics in the mid-to-late nineteenth century New York with Boss Tweed and his Tammany Hall Democrat-party machine.
In our current politics, the idea is to prevent potential voters from voting because they may lean toward the other political party. This is done by both parties, predominantly in recent decades by Republicans, with gerrymandering.
In the 2018 mid-terms, what we also saw were voting limitations placed upon minorities such as Native Americans and African Americans.
In a 6-2 ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court in October, which required Native Americans to have proof of an actual street address in order to be able to vote. In rural Native reservations in North Dakota, there are most often no street addresses. This is no fault of their own. The Native reservations were never designed with street addresses in mind.
This was never a voting issue in North Dakota; Native Americans on any of the six large reservations have always just used P.O. boxes and they could vote. Then Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, won six years ago by small margins. North Dakota Republicans knew she had the general support of the Native community so they passed a law requiring voters to have an ID with a street address.
Unfortunately, this is not a unique case. Efforts are being made across the country to suppress the vote. Since 2010, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, there have been 24 states which have introduced measures making it more difficult to vote. This new restrictive-voting legislation includes: more rigorous requirements of photo IDs, more limitations on early voting, and more stringent obligations on voting registration. Arguably, even though the Constitution declares it a right, many state officials are treating voting as a privilege. The difference is significant. States must legally justify restrictions on rights but not so on privileges.
Voter suppression in general damages our democracy. The more people we include in our democracy, and by giving more people the right to vote, the more representative government we have. Moreover, democracy is not simply about protecting the majority or how the majority rules but rather providing safeguards for our minorities as well.
Voting suppression is reminiscent of the “Jim Crow” South when it was acceptable to require African Americans to pay a “poll tax” in order to vote. Or, enforcing “grandfather clauses” — such as if your grandfather could not vote, neither could you. (For African-Americans who were former slaves, their grandparents were not allowed to vote!) And perhaps, worst of all, there were the impossible to pass literacy tests.
Today, in Georgia, the Secretary of State, Brian Kemp (R), who also happens to be running against the African-American, Stacey Abrams (D), for governor— used his office to put 53,000 voter registrations on hold. At least three-quarters of these potential voters are African-Americans.
Kemp (R) has further raised the issue of fraud against the Democrats accusing them of hacking into the state’s voter registration system without any evidence whatsoever. Governor Rick Scott (R) in his Senatorial bid has also cried foul, calling out “radical liberals” for spoiling the electoral process, especially in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Such sentiments have been echoed by the President, when Trump cried foul about Hillary Clinton for rigging the 2016 election and the popular vote, utterly false claims seeming to misdirect from his own questionable machinations.
Why in 2018 are we still dealing with voter suppression? It is unconscionable.
Yet, not all was bad news from the mid-terms. There were some important positive take-aways as well.
Florida voted to allow former felons the right to vote with the exception of murderers and child abusers. More women were elected to the House of Representatives than at any other time in our history. At least 92 women were elected to the 435-member U.S. House of Representatives and at least 10 women were elected as U.S. Senators. (This will mean 23 women will now serve as U.S. Senators out of 100 members.) In all, there will be 115 women serving in our representative democracy. (With some races still being decided, including more women.)
What is more, the first Native American women were elected to the U.S. Congress; Sharice Davids (D-Kansas), Ho-Chunk Nation, and Debra Haaland (D-New Mexico), Laguna Pueblo People. The first Muslim-American women were also elected to the House of Representatives; Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota), a Somali-born refugee, and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan), Palestinian-American. For the first time in U.S. history an openly gay person will serve as governor of a state; Jared Polis of Colorado. Additionally, the youngest woman to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives was elected, Latina, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) at 29 years old.
In sum, it is important to be hopeful about our elections. At the same time, we need to be wary of political strategies which are undermining our democracy and limiting our right to vote. Trump’s latest call for removing the 14th Amendment from the Constitution is just the most recent political installment of this drama. In other words, newly born new immigrants (so-called illegals) should not get the same rights according to the Trump administration.
It is time we all fight for our rights as Americans. It is time we call out our election officials for their false claims. It is time we take charge of our electoral process once more.
And if necessary, it is time we ask our elections be monitored by international observers like the United Nations to make them free and fair for all.
J.P. Linstroth is an Adjunct Professor at Barry University. He is author of “Marching Against Gender Practice: Political Imaginings in the Basqueland” (2015).