The Urgent Need for Reforming the U.S. Election Systems

Once again this year’s U.S. presidential election reveals many problems in our election systems, federal and state, that need to be fixed. Indeed, President Obama in his victory speech on Tuesday night made this very point as he adlibbed “We have to fix that” after thanking people for standing in long lines to vote. A prior post discussed some of the ways that the systems could be improved.

My focus today is on this year’s apparent efforts by Republican officials in Florida and Ohio to make it more difficult for African-Americans and Latinos to vote by limiting early voting and by other means. Also in this category, in my opinion, are the reports of systematic campaigns by Republican groups to combat fictitious election fraud throughout the country. This included a proposed (and defeated) Minnesota constitutional amendment to require photo-ID for voting.

In the short run, these Republican officials and others, in my opinion, made the short-term political judgment that the Republicans stand a better chance of having their candidates elected if they can suppress the voting of those citizens who are likely to vote for their opponents.

This election, however, shows that such a political judgment is unwise for the Republicans, not just in the long-term, but in the short-term as well.

As a white voter in a Minneapolis suburb, I walked into my polling place on Election Day and without having to wait in any line immediately signed the voter registration book, obtained my ballot and voted. It took me about 15 minutes at most. In short, I was not personally affected by these suppression efforts.

If I were African-American or Latino, however, I know I would have regarded the apparent voter suppression efforts this year as utterly and totally insulting to me personally and to all my racial and ethnic brothers and sisters. It would have made me determined to vote, no matter no long it took to do so, and to vote for the Democratic candidates. This would be the case even if I lived and voted in Minnesota, not Florida or Ohio.

The videos of the long lines of voters in Florida on Election Day, many of whom were African-American, are evidence, I believe, that they reacted just as I would have reacted. I also saw huge African-American voter turnout on Election Day as I went door-knocking for President Obama in a precinct in north Minneapolis that was heavily African-American. CNN contributor, Roland Martin, himself African-American, forcefully asserts this very point.

As the GOP engages in its necessary post-mortem analysis of why they lost this year’s election for  President and other offices and what they need to do to avoid becoming a fossilized elephant, most of the discussion so far has focused on their positions on substantive issues– immigration, tax policy and bedroom issues (women’s reproductive rights and gay rights). The Republicans, in my opinion, certainly need to do this.

But their post-mortem analysis also needs to conclude, in my opinion, that they must eradicate their anti-democratic policies and attitudes about voting.