democracy is a work in progress

Problem Definition

Voting rights are under attack today through several mechanisms that are threatening what it means to be a democracy. We separated these mechanisms into four categories:

Gerrymandering and other anti-competitive acts of the two-party system. Redistricting is an act required by the Constitution to redraw voting districts every 10 years to reflect population growth. It is a state-owned responsibility that has long been recognized as an activity often manipulated by the party in power for partisan purposes. That manipulation is what we call “gerrymandering”. Today, gerrymandering has reached new partisan extremes as data is used increasingly to define voting districts that are more precisely crooked and purposeful in shape than in previous eras.

Acts of voter suppression are on the rise. New voter ID laws, voter purges, and other political dirty tricks are making it harder for people of color to register to vote and to cast their ballot.

Election security. Unfounded accusations of voter fraud, actual foreign and domestic interference, and vulnerable new technologies have in recent years begun to undermine the security and integrity of our elections.

The Electoral College is a decidedly undemocratic institution that has recently drawn increased attention because two of the last three presidents were elected to their first terms even though they lost the popular vote. Regardless of the merits for its existence, these results substantially contribute to the loss of faith in one person, one vote.

Despite recent victories against fraud in North Carolina, partisan gerrymandering in Michigan, and a strict voter ID law in Texas, the individual problems don’t seem to go away. When added together, their persistence continues to weigh against Americans’ trust and engagement in the political system. Coupled with knowledge of gross economic inequality and Congress’ inability to agree on solutions to healthcare access, climate change, and the national debt, the cumulative damage has been corrosive as whole segments of the population have reason to suspect that American democracy does not represent, include, or work for them.

Related Problems: Money in Politics, Income and Wealth Inequality

Contributors: George LinzerMichael Deal, Kyle Mullins

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

Published: December 5, 2019

Last Updated: June 16, 2021

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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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The battle being waged over voting rights in state legislatures and the US Congress has been too easily mischaracterized as a partisan fight. Texas Democrats walked out to avoid a floor vote and bring attention to a state-by-state attack on our democracy.

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