PSU Vanguard Shield Icon

Can voting truly capture the sentiment of Americans?

In the race to the 2020 elections, much hay has been made over the demographics of voters. White Americans made up the bulk of President Donald Trump’s 2016 support, pushing him toward a win in several rust belt states, while BIPOC voters mostly broke for Clinton. To say nothing of voter disenfranchisement, can voting really reflect the demographics of the country and their sentiments?

Ever since the United States Supreme Court disastrous Shelby v. Holder ruling in 2013, holding that the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was invalid in several areas, voting lines have gotten longer and disenfranchisement bolder. If Black voters in the southern U.S. can’t access the polls reliably and in a reasonable time, then it’s impossible to say they are rightly represented in our current electoral system. If Indigenous voters in South Dakota must sue for ballot drop boxes, then how is this system anything but restrictive?

The Trump administration has been working to cement this new electoral regime, packing courts with its picks to ensure favorable electoral rulings while at the same time it attacks mail-in voting, demanding people vote in person. This kind of overt, systemic discrimination is a threat to democracy, but it is the goal of opponents of enfranchisement and universal suffrage.

Without a fair, open electoral process, the country is left with a political direction aimed squarely at the status quo. Voters should not be told their vote matters if that is not true. Anyone who makes your ability to vote more difficult, whether by the courts or through intimidation, is trying to justify and secure their idea of who deserves to vote.

No, voting does not capture the sentiment of Americans.

When a country must pass laws to bar discrimination at the polls but then turns around and, via the courts, curtails these laws, the idea of who is served by voting becomes crystal clear. Make no mistake, the kind of interference and restrictions put in place by the GOP are meant to do little more than ensure people of means, white people especially, can vote without having to worry about their vote being weighed against that of a Black voter. Imagine if you were Black and disabled and needed either bussing to the polls or ballot pickup, and these were blocked. Do you even have a vote at that point?

Election Day, too, provides a massive barrier, blocking the working class from making it out to the polls before they close. On a Tuesday, Election Day limits the ability for many to vote. If you work, asking off to vote can raise suspicions, make employers cagey about letting one person go lest they inspire others and just generally raise interest and suspicion into your political positions.

Solutions to these inequities exist in large numbers, many of them relatively easy in principle, but blocked by a stubborn Congress and state legislatures. Moving Election Day, increasing the length of time to vote, mail-in ballots, the list goes on. With even a modest effort, the country could reduce disenfranchisement. The clear benefit of this kind of expansion of the right to vote, a better reflection of the sentiments of voters, however, is simply too inclusive and may cause the balance of voter preference to shift dramatically.

All things considered, the complicated nature of voting in the U.S. at present is to blame for our current state of affairs: a pandemic, unchecked racism, a failing economy that only serves to enrich the wealthy. It would be easy to urge people to try hard to overcome the barriers as they exist, but these barriers should be destroyed. That there are not more election access cases in high courts right now suggests a country that has accepted this dynamic. It is the only real reflection of national sentiment right now—and that should not be.