America’s political history explains the growing Voting Wars. Indeed, how Americans vote has become a central issue in our politics.
Recent headlines show how intense the Voting Wars have become. Mother Jones; for example, observes Georgia Republicans Are Doubling Down on Racist Voter Suppression. Politico muses State Republicans push new voting restrictions after Trump’s loss. The Guardian tops them all with US democracy on the brink: Republicans wage ‘coordinated onslaught’ on voting rights.
The headlines reflect an all-out war over the vote in America’s state houses. That war is intensifying and spreading to Washington DC.
The Voting Wars
The unprecedented Republican onslaught involves 361 bills that could restrict voting in 47 state legislatures, the Brennan Center estimates.
Incredibly, the number of restrictive bills grew by 108 or 43% between 19 February 2021 and 24 March 2021. On 19 February the Brennan Center counted 253 voter restriction bills, the number grew to 361 a month later.
The Democrats are as active in the voting wars as the Republicans. Many Congressional Democrats want to change U.S. Senate procedure by killing the filibuster to pass House Resolution 1 (HR1). Under the filibuster, you need the votes of 60 Senators to pass most legislation. Democrats only have 51 votes in the Senate, and Republicans oppose HR1.
HR1; or the For the People Act, mandates a radical overhaul of the nation’s electoral system. That overhaul includes:
- Mandatory automatic voter registration
- Mandatory early voting
- A ban on gerrymandering for US House of Representatives districts
- A ban on voter roll purges
- Restoration of felons’ voting rights
- Restricts campaign donations
- Creates public financing of campaigns powered by small donations
Vox observes that there is self-interest behind Democrats’ support of HR1. Vox’s Ella Nilsen writes: “HR 1 could be a last-ditch effort for Democrats to be competitive in House races, if they can get it through Congress and to President Joe Biden’s desk.”
The Voting Wars Spread
In recent weeks, the Voting Wars have spread outside the political arena. Dramatically, Major League Baseball (MLB) moved its draft and All-Star game from Atlanta to Denver.
The MLB owners left Atlanta because Georgia Governor Brian Kemp (R) signed a law critics call voter suppression. In contrast, Colorado has some of the most liberal voting laws in the country. The State of Colorado automatically sends mail-in ballots to all registered voters and offers weeks of early voting.
Many major corporations have joined MLB in opposition to Republican vote restrictions out of fear of boycott threats, The Washington Post reports. Republicans led by former President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida) have struck back with boycotts of companies such as Coca-Cola (KO). Meanwhile, US Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) wants “the corporate CEOs of America is to stay out of politics.
I think McConnell and Trump fear Republicans will lose corporate donations if the Voting Wars continue. Conversely, corporate leaders such as Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey fear loss of African-Americans’ and liberals’ business if they do not oppose voting restrictions.
How America’s Political History Explains the Voting Wars
So why are both Republicans and Democrats taking such enormous risks and investing so much time, money, and effort in the Voting Wars? I think we can find the explanation in America’s political history.
In its history, the United States America has had Five Party Systems. Each of the Party Systems was a different political system and era of politics. If you want a full exploration and explanation of this history, I offer one in this long essay at MarketMadHouse.
To explain before 1820, state legislators and caucuses chose Presidential Electors. By 1824, most states began choosing presidential electors in elections. That led to chaos because there were no organized political parties or formal campaigns.
Incredibly, there were four presidential candidates in 1824 all of whom claimed to represent the Republican Party. Consequently, no candidate got a majority and the House of Representatives chose the President.
Electoral Systems Shape Politics
One result of 1824 was the appearance of organized and centralized national political parties. Each party chose an official slate of candidates that all members had to support.
The Fourth Party System began in 1916, when the 17th Amendment mandated popular elections of US Senators. That created national politics by the taking the selection of US Senators away from state legislatures and state, city, and regional machines. Before 1916, state legislators chose Senators.
Today’s Fifth Party System began after 1968, when the Democratic and Republican parties began using primary elections to pick convention delegates. That action changed the nature of politics by allowing ordinary people, primary voters, to choose presidential candidates and stripping the party establishments of their power.
Consequently, Donald J. Trump (R-Florida); a man many Republican politicians hate runs the Grand Old Party (GOP). Trump dominates the GOP because he has the support of most Republican primary voters. In fact, Suffolk University/USA TODAY Poll estimates 46% of Republicans say they would leave the GOP if it abandons Trump.
Thus, both Democrats and Republicans understand the history and realize any changes to voting now could create a new political system. In particular, Democrats want to extend the vote to all citizens, including young people and people of color because those groups usually vote Democratic.
Similarly, Republicans want to restrict the vote to whites, older voters, and rural voters because those groups are more apt to vote Republican. One danger both parties face is that voter restriction or expansion efforts will enrage voters and send them to the polls.
This seems to have occurred in Georgia, where clumsy Republican voter suppression increased Democratic turnout. Consequently, Republican presidential and US Senate candidates lost the Peach Tree State by a narrow margin in 2020.
Will the Voting Wars turn Violent?
A more destructive side-effect of voter suppression is violence. For example, a Republican mob attacked the US Capitol on 6 January 2021 to stop the certification of the election of President Joe Biden (D-Delaware). The mob members believed President Donald J. Trump’s (R-Florida) false claims of vote fraud and voter suppression.
Consequently, any Republican or Democratic win could trigger violence or civil disobedience. For instance, a Democratic mob attacking the inauguration ceremony if Kemp wins a second term as Georgia’s governor.
The actual fear on both sides is that changes will shut them out of a new political system. This happened to African Americans in the Third and Fourth Party systems because of Jim Crow. Jim Crow was the system of restrictions that kept blacks from voting or running for office in most Southern States between 1880 and 1970.
Today, some whites and many Christians fear the new American political system will exclude them. Similarly, some African Americans fear a second coming of Jim Crow. The history of Jim Crow shows such fears are more realistic than most Americans want to admit.
The January 6 Capitol Riot shows such fears do not have to be realistic to trigger violence. The Capitol Riot shows that demagogues such as Trump only need to raise fears of voter suppression to spark violence.
Adding race or religion to the mix increases the emotions and makes the violence worse. For the example, news reports allege the Capitol Mob included many White Supremacists and White Nationalists who were afraid of non-white majority government.
American history shows the Voting Wars could reshape America’s political system. The same history shows why the Voting Wars will turn violent.