democracy is a work in progress

Voting Rights, Gerrymandering, Voter Suppression, and more

Problem Brief

Considerations2020-06-24T21:50:51-05:00

Key Considerations

Money in Politics

The growing wealth inequality in the US and the increased role of money in politics resulting from the Citizens United decision have overwhelmed the electoral process and virtually silenced the voices of average Americans at the national level.  Members of Congress spend almost as much of their work week fundraising as they do legislating. The Princeton University study that assessed the impact of citizen support on passage of legislation concluded that “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Repairing the electoral process and re-invigorating the electorate is the best means of achieving greater representation and influence on future policies.

Immigration

As the storyline on the expansion of voting rights reveals, immigrants from different parts of the world have regularly been excluded from acquiring citizenship and the right to vote at various times in our history. According to the government’s Office of the Historian, one sweeping piece of legislation — the Immigration Act of 1924 — was designed “to preserve the ideal of U.S. homogeneity.” Chinese, Japanese, Asian Indians, and others who were prevented from becoming naturalized citizens — all eventually were granted that right, suggesting instead that the ideal of the melting pot, of taking in the world’s hungry and poor, has proven to be more popularly “American”.

On a more practical level, though, immigration is closely tied to voting rights. With regard to our circumstances today, immigrant communities, particularly those from Mexico and Central and South America, tend to vote for Democratic candidates, not Republicans. In the 2018 midterms, 9.6% of the electorate was Hispanic — exactly double what it was 20 years earlier — and the percentage of white voters dropped 9%. So, despite public expressions of concern over border security, immigrant crime, and stealing of jobs, it is important to note the political motivation that connects anti-immigrant policies to the efforts to limit who votes in our elections.

Contributors: George LinzerMichael Deal

Reviewed by: Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress

Published: December 5, 2019

Updated: March 5, 2020

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Expansion of Voting Rights Storyline

Voter imageThe right to vote in America is a fundamental democratic liberty – it is one of those rights that we fight wars to defend. Yet, when the nation was founded, voting was almost exclusively reserved for propertied white men. Since then, voting rights have slowly grown more inclusive, expanding to an ever broader cross-section of the American public, but this progress has almost always been hard won.

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