Elections’ Outcomes Lead to Widespread Public Mistrust

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elections - photo of artists illustration: Martin Luther King Jr.Inconsistencies in elections are creating an air of mistrust and skepticism regarding the ideals of fellow American citizens, and the voting process. Although voting appears antiquated, one fact may give cause to reconsideration. In just one 6 year period, states made 262 requests to change local voting laws, then later altered or withdrew them after they were vetted for discrimination under section 5 of the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Furthermore this section is the same piece of legislation determined obsolete according to Supreme Court justice chief John Roberts in the 2013 Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder. He argued that states with a historical legacy of racism no longer required federal oversight when attempting to change local voting laws. “The country has changed”, Roberts stated. Although the new law does contain a provision to place jurisdictions under “pre-clearance”, or federal oversight if they demonstrate intentional discrimination.

How New Voting Laws Affect Americans

The three key results of the ammended law are:
1. Sections of the Voting Rights Act no longer deter the passage of discriminatory voting changes.
2. Challenging discriminatory voting laws and practices is now more costly, difficult, and time-consuming, as cases must be litigated, in contrast to the administrative process Section 5 previously provided.
3. The American public is no longer required to receive information about new voting laws prior to their implementation, as was mandated under Section 5. Litigations persist as a direct result of discriminatory laws passed since the Shelby case. They now cite other protections provided within the Voting Rights Act.

Additional Components of the Political Process

Voting is only one aspect of the political process when considering how elections are decided. At the state level, nationwide, the popular vote is not a determining factor in electing legislative seats. The following are two political processes that influence citizen representation, and elections:

  • Reapportionment: The census recalculates the US. population every 10 years. States use this data to determine the number of districts of each state, which determines the number of electors in each state, (also called the congressional delegation). This is subsequently the number of representatives of that state in the house and senate combined. The US. constitution assigns two congressional houses per state. The first, the senate, is composed of two representatives from each state. The second, is the house of representatives, (which consists of 435 representatives). This number is distributed among the states, based on their recorded populations.
  •  Redistricting: After states receive the data on the number of districts per state, it is their task to draw the boundaries of the districts. This process is called redistricting.

Corruption Controls Elections: Gerrymandering

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Generally, the legislators holding stronger political influence redraw the geographical boundaries into districts. Gerrymandering taints this process when politicians cunningly create districts, (based on well researched voter data), with the sole aim of maintaining political power. Opposing constituents are split up and drawn into constituencies that favor a certain party. Favorable constituents are added to competitive areas where close races are won.
 

US Census Factors into Population Distortion

 
The prison industry, which has grown fastidiously over the last 30 years, infuses a large economic and political boost to mostly rural areas where their construction has dominated. These rural towns rely on the prison industry that provides economic opportunities and increases political representation. The US. census counts prison populations as residents of the counties of those prisons. This diminishes political representation in the home towns of majority black detainees, redistributes the allocation of federal funding, and increases political influence in prison counties. According to the Brookings Institution, a leading research organization, in fiscal year 1998, federal grant programs totaling $185 billion relied on census data. While those incarcerated lose their constitutional rights, including the right to vote, they are counted as constituents, and utilized in a massive economic power grab.
 
Prison gerrymandering is corruption that exists in both processes of reapportionment and redistricting. In redistricting, legislators draw prison populations into areas of political opposition to increase the party’s influence. This results in abridgement of American citizen’s rights and reallocation of funds. Consequently, In 2010, after years of litigation, Maryland was the first state in the US. to redraw districts by counting prisoners in their home towns instead of prison jurisdictions. Maryland Governor, Martin O’malley signed the “No Representation Without Population Act”. The Maryland law is a significant first step in addressing the American epidemic of mass incarceration. This action begins to de-incentivize an industry that has risen swiftly, in conjunction with disproportionate  crime laws designed to grow and maintain a population in confinement.

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References:

Lopez, Tomas. 06/24/2014. “Shelby County: One Year Later”. Brennan Center for Justice New York University School of Law. [Https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/shelby-county-one-year-later].;

Cooper, Ryan. 11/07/2016. “This is the First Election Without the Full Voting Rights Act – and it’s Already a Disaster”. The Week. [Http://theweek.com/articles/659599/first-election-without-full-voting-rights-act-already-disaster].; the Leadership Conference. [Http://www.Civilrights.org].; Skerry, Peter. 03/2000. “Counting on the Census?” Brookings Institution.  Policy Brief. PDF.; Morello, Carol. 4/15/2010. “Maryland Changes how Prisoners are Counted in Census”. Washington Post. [Http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/04/14/AR2010041404600.html].

Image Credits:

Eve C. 06/25/2017. photo and illustration. “Martin Luther King Jr.”