Voting is like getting a vaccination. Both voting and vaccinations require some inconvenience and a little pain — with one ultimately delivering a healthier populace and the other a healthier body politic.
People who don’t vote often explain their ignoring the ballot box by arguing that their vote doesn’t matter. The explanation is similar to one of the arguments made by parents who don’t vaccinate their children. They often don’t believe that vaccinating their children matters. They say that diseases like the measles have been eradicated, so why should they put their children through the hassle and the pain of an inoculation?
Well, because when they don’t vaccinate their kids, the herd immunity is weakened, and dormant disease like the measles can rise again — as recent outbreaks in California and Minnesota demonstrate. These outbreaks were clearly attributed to a lack of vaccinations.
Similarly, dangerous things can occur when large segments of the population don’t vote, as happened in the 2016 presidential election, when only 55 percent of Americans of voting age cast a ballot. Even though only 26% of Americans identify as Republicans, the GOP currently controls the presidency, the Senate and the House of Representatives. This nearly unfettered power was made possible primarily by the many Democrats and independents who didn’t show up to the polls.
When voters don’t show up, a political party representing just one in four Americans can end up with control of the entire federal government. When people don’t make their voices heard, unpopular and extremist policies can take hold, even when polling shows that large majorities oppose them. When youth don’t make voting a priority, their future gets put in the hands of older voters who are trying to preserve the past rather than create opportunities for the future. Here are a few current examples:
- Continued blocking of common-sense gun restrictions, even though about 9 in 10 Americans support background checks for all gun purchases.
- Weakening of Obamacare via legislation and executive orders, despite the majority of Americans having a favorable opinion of the law.
- Cutting taxes for billionaires, even though 55% of Americans opposed the Republican tax plan.
- The neutering of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, even though 74 percent of Americans favor the bureau’s mission.
While in power, a party backed only by a minority can enact legislation opposed by the majority of Americans. That is concerning enough.
But what’s even more troubling is when a minority party, worried that it may be voted out in the next election, works to consolidate and maintain its power by altering the rules around voting. In short, it’s acting like a virus that is attacking its host — in this case the American democratic system.
The approach has turned a formerly reasonable Republican party into a fringe right movement that threatens our democratic principles. Here are three key ways today’s Republican party has worked to limit the power of the vote:
The Republican-backed Citizens United court case, decided in 2010, opened the floodgates of campaign financing by the Koch Brothers and other rich donors and organizations. Many believe Citizens United has muted the voice of the 99 percent. Your voice gets louder when you vote.
Today’s GOP has also systematically gerrymandered voting districts to enable states to send the maximum number of representatives to Washington. The gerrymandering in Virginia is prime example. The state sent 8 Republicans and just 3 Democrats to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016, even though Hillary Clinton won the state in the presidential election. Gerrymandering is one key reason. On a national level, gerrymandering contributes to the GOP’s 241-194 advantage in the House, even though it won the popular vote on a national level by the thin margin of 49-48 percent. And the only reason Republican candidates received more votes was that almost half of voting-age Americans didn’t make it to the ballot box.
Republicans also work to perpetuate voting restrictions. While countries such as Australia, which fines people who don’t vote, encourage voting, the GOP backs efforts to reduce voter turnout. Republicans consistently oppose measures that would make it easier for more people to vote, such as making Election Day a holiday, allowing vote by mail, and ending the disenfranchisement of felons.
The only way to fight a virus is with a vaccination. And there’s only one way to fight unpopular policies and a power-grabbing minority party: Voting.