Democracy in America

What if I told you last week that there was an election where those members of the majority party in the land voted easily as there was a polling place for every 2500 persons whereas those in a minority group that supported the minority party in that land waited 3+ hours as there was only one polling site per 100,000.  You’d scoff at whatever third-world backwater ran their elections like this.  Welcome to Arizona.  From the NYT:

PHOENIX — Cynthia Perez, a lawyer, stopped by a polling site on her way to work here on Tuesday, thinking she could vote early and get on with her day. She changed her mind when she found a line so long she could not see the end of it.

The line was just as big when she came back midafternoon — and bigger three hours later, after she had finally cast her ballot.

“To me,” said Ms. Perez, 31, “this is not what democracy is about.”

Days later, angry and baffled voters are still trying to make sense of how democracy is working in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, where officials cut the number of polling places by 70 percent to save money — to 60 from 200 in the last presidential election. That translated to a single polling place for every 108,000 residents in Phoenix, a majority-minority city that had exceptional turnout in Tuesday’s Democratic and Republican primaries…

But beyond the electoral breakdown here, many observers saw Arizona as a flashing neon sign pointing toward potential problems nationally at a time that 16 states will have new voting restrictions in place for the first time in a presidential election. The presidential election will be the first since the Supreme Court dismantled a crucial section of the Voting Rights Act in 2013, freeing nine states, including Arizona and parts of seven others, to change their election laws without advance federal approval…

On March 9, Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, signed a law that made it a felony to collect ballots for others in Arizona and bring them to the polls.

“It’s worrisome what the states are doing without these protections,” said Allegra Chapman, director of voting and elections for Common Cause, a watchdog group.

Arizona has a long history of discrimination against minorities, preventing American Indians from voting for much of its history because they were considered “wards of the nation,” imposing English literacy tests on prospective voters and printing English-only election materials even as the state’s Spanish-speaking population grew.

You know what should be a felony?  This egregious level of voter suppression.  I sure would not have waited in line to vote for 3+ hours as would surely be the case with many, many others with small children at home or many, many a job.  Seriously, I think it should be a literal crime to behave as these Arizona election officials have.  I’d so rather have them in prison than one more meth or heroin user.  This type of game-playing with the right to vote is absolutely inimical to a properly functioning democracy.  It really makes me run out of words with how much it offends me.

 Oh, and you know who else is grossly at fault?  The conservatives on the Supreme Court.  Quite seriously, so.  Here’s EJ Dionne:

A major culprit would be the U.S. Supreme Court, and specifically the conservative majority that gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. [emphasis mine]

The facts of what happened in Arizona’s presidential primary are gradually penetrating the nation’s consciousness. In a move rationalized as an attempt to save money, officials of Maricopa County, the state’s most populous, cut the number of polling places by 70 percent, from 200 in the last presidential election to 60 this time around.

Maricopa includes Phoenix, the state’s largest city, which happens to have a non-white majority and is a Democratic island in an otherwise Republican county.

What did the cutbacks mean? As the Arizona Republic reported, the county’s move left one polling place for every 21,000 voters — compared with one polling place for every 2,500 voters in the rest of the state…

A Democrat, [Phoenix mayor Greg] Stanton asked himself the obvious question: “Am I suggesting this was the intent of the people who run elections in Maricopa County?” His answer: “In voting rights terms, it doesn’t matter.” What matters, he said, is whether changes in practice “had a disparate impact on minority communities,” which they clearly did.

And there’s the rub. Before the Supreme Court undermined Voting Rights Act enforcement, radical changes in voting practices such as Maricopa’s drastic cut in the number of polling places would have been required to be cleared with the Justice Department because Arizona was one of the states the law covered. This time, county officials could blunder — let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that there was no discriminatory intent — without any supervision.

Meanwhile John Roberts just tells us to stop paying attention to race and all problems of race will vanish.  And race issues aside, it is truly, deeply, appalling that this sort of thing can happen at all in what should be a democracy.  Honestly, I’m just disgusted.

About Steve Greene
Professor of Political Science at NC State

One Response to Democracy in America

  1. R. Jenrette says:

    Republicans today are mostly authoritarians as has been discussed before. They are not small “d” democrats. Of course they only want “sensible” people like themselves to run things. Of course they think they can and should tell other people how to live their lives.
    Of course they can save money by cutting the number of voting places and a big plus to them is that many non-sensible people can be discouraged from voting.
    And if findings of scientific research fall onto the wrong side of right and wrong principles, then the facts must be wrong themselves, either from faulty observation or cooking the books or just plain lies.
    Right vs wrong is a simple way to live; complications make life way too messy and leads to disorder.

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