The Black Vote

High-up Democrats are complaining that many blacks will not vote because of disillusionment with the process. Usually it’s something I’d attribute entirely to the Democrats’ conservatism on welfare reform, education funding, and health care; if you can no longer take a group’s vote for granted while screwing it when in power, it’s your fault, not the group’s.

But in this case, it’s not about social welfare, but about education. Says the New York Times,

Democrats’ worries are backed up by a Pew Research Center report that found that blacks were twice as likely now than they were in 2004 to say they had little or no confidence in the voting system, rising to 29 percent from 15 percent.

And more than three times as many blacks as whites — 29 percent versus 8 percent — say they do not believe that their vote will be accurately tallied.

Voting experts say the disillusionment is the cumulative effect of election problems in 2000 and 2004, and a reaction to new identification and voter registration laws.

Fatalism among the lower classes isn’t a particularly shocking thing; to a great degree, electoral politics is about civic activists finding ways to mobilize the fatalist masses to vote for them (and reneging on their promises after winning). Even doubts about the voting system aren’t an out of the ordinary thing in a country with a low-income ethnic subculture. Judging by political commercials, they are or at least used to be pretty serious among Russian immigrants in Israel, where voting is done by paper ballots.

What is unique to the US is a voting system that causes people to be so fatalistic they’re expressing doubts about the validity of their vote. One person cited in the article says, “I realized that maybe the poll tax isn’t gone after all.” I’ve written before about how some of the peculiarities of American bureaucracy contribute to a difficult election process.

First, there are no mandatory ID cards. This is a good thing, but one of the side effects of that is the proliferation of fakable IDs. Passports could put an end to this, but most Americans don’t have passports – when the world ends at your country’s borders, you don’t need a document useful only to travel abroad – and the government doesn’t even take the basic step of making sure everyone has some government-issued photo ID that it’s not trivial to forge.

Second, the standard method of ID verification in this country, the social security number, is too porous. It’s workable when you ask for information over the phone, but in person, it’s vastly inferior to a federally-issued card that has your name, photo, place of residence, and social security number in it.

And third, electronic voting reminds me of a joke I once got by email. “American astronauts found that their pens couldn’t work in zero gravity; NASA then contracted devising a pen that could work in zero gravity to a corporation that spent ten million dollars on developing a pen that worked underwater, in zero gravity, and in a vacuum. The Russians just wrote in pencil.” India manages to have elections with hardware-based voting machines, and Canada uses paper ballots. I’m going to venture a guess that either country spends vastly less per capita on holding elections than the US.

Although the Democrats aren’t doing anything to make sure everyone’s vote is counted, except after the fact, the Republicans bear the brunt of the blame. It’s not the Democratic Party that’s circulating pamphlets in majority-minority areas telling people they can’t vote if they got parking tickets. It’s not the Democratic Party that sends operatives to challenge the legitimacy of black voters and then calls people who complain about voter suppression paranoid.

No, the Democratic Party’s problem is in failing to solve the problem. It can’t be that hard to tell the Republican majority, “Okay, let’s mandate photo IDs for voting, as long as we can ensure that every eligible voter can get a free government ID by election day.” Enough moderate Republicans will accept the deal for it to pass; if they don’t, that’s where comparisons to totalitarian countries’ ban on emigration come in (every US citizen who can afford a passport can get one, but the restriction on traveling without a passport comes from the government).

One Response to The Black Vote

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