The “Student Blog Post” series invites students from my PLS 321: Electoral Process course to author their own blogs about recent election events.
Fundamental to any functioning democracy is the right to participate in the electoral process. The right to vote has been inherent in American democracy since the adoption of the Constitution in 1776 when the Founding Fathers fought to allow the citizenry to elect the people that governed them. Through the years, lawmakers of individual states have attempted to restrict qualified individuals from exercising their constitutional right for a variety of factors including racism and ideological bias. Today, voter identification laws have been adopted in multiple states in the Union with the intention of eradicating voter fraud, but the implications of these laws have prevented individuals from exercising their right to vote. BBC’s Gary O’Donoghue reports on the story of Leroy Switlick, a 67-year-old disabled man who has gone through multiple obstacles trying to receive the appropriate state required identification. He has voted in every single presidential election for the past 40 years, but this election cycle may be different due to newly created voter identification laws.
The aim of these state voter identification laws is to block certain individuals from voting, mainly poor minority families that have an ideological stance opposed to the parties in power. In an effort to control who stays in power, these state legislatures have changed the rules of the game to favor the status quo. Andre Blais argues that voter turnout has a wide variety of variables that can incentivize and disincentive citizens from exercising their ability to vote. Blais argues that as more hurdles or obstacles are in place for voters to participate, then voter turnout begins to fall. Simple obstacles to voting include the day in which elections take place, among other considerations. It is clear that instituting voter identification laws becomes an extra hurdle for voters to overcome and can result in a lower turnout. Barbra Lee, a voter registration activist for the Democratic Party in Southern Virginia, argues that upwards of 11% of eligible voters are not able to obtain the correct form of voter identification necessary to cast a ballot. This is especially problematic for individuals of lower socio-economic status that do not have the time or monetary resources to exhaust on acquiring the proper identification necessary to vote. BBC’s Gary O’Donoghue states that an estimated 300,000 citizens in the state of Wisconsin will not be eligible to cast their ballots on November 8 because of the new voter identification laws in the state.
Voter identification laws have clear substantive effects on the electoral process, but they may also have strong normative affects as well. The theoretical scholarship on voting and electoral process has concluded that voting is a system used to legitimate governance. Lederman argues that elections from a theoretical standpoint have offered the citizenry the ability to hold governors accountable for their actions. Voting allows individual citizens to become comfortable entrusting their power to individual candidates and this process is good for democracy because it has stabilizing factors. As democratic institutions have developed, more institutional changes such as the use of referendum, recalls, and propositions have allowed citizens to experiment with direct democracy and has empowered voters to more directly express their opinions argues Lederman. This however is undermined when states pass voter identification laws, thereby limiting participation.
Thomas Davis is a fifth year political science major. He enjoys reading and academic research and his pastimes include going to Roman Catholic Mass, eating with friends, and spending time with family. Thomas plans to attend graduate school in the near future.