The Flaws of American Democracy: Voter Suppression, Gerrymandering and Political Polarization

By Sarah Roberts
Published on May 22nd, 2021

The COVID-19 Pandemic has exasperated voter suppression in the US, unravelling the flaws in American Democracy. A main flaw with democracy in the United States starts with voting, due to partisan gerrymandering, political polarization and the persistent and disproportionate voter suppression towards people of colour. Although the extent of voter suppression in the US is debated among scholars, it still remains as a major issue.

In today's day and age voter suppression and election laws make it routinely harder for people of colour to vote than white counterparts. Several academic studies and court rulings have shown that racially biased election laws in 2016 resulted in Republican candidates being favoured. Data shows that policies like voter-ID requirements and automatic voter purges have racial and ethnic biases. 9% of Hispanic and black respondents of a survey said that either them or someone in their household lacked proper identification to vote, whilenly 3% of white responders faced the same situation. Voter-ID laws unfairly discriminate against low-income, black and Latino voters as they are significantly less likely to meet the new requirements than middle-class whites. There is also no evidence that the new laws have prevented any form of voting fraud. Although North Carolina voter ID laws were decried by the federal court as they were deliberately discriminatory which “target[ed] African Americans with almost surgical precision.” Many states still have strict voter ID laws that have changed electoral outcomes. It is shown that voter ID laws reduced turnout by around 2-3 percent resulting in tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state. In Wisconsin, studies showed that the number of Democrats who were unable to vote as a result of lacking proper ID exceeded Trump’s margin of victory in 2016and that the biggest decreases in turnout were in black neighborhoods. There are also subtle laws which disproportionately target specific demographics. For example white people are twice as likely to get time off work to vote than people of colour. In 2018 70% of the voters removed from voter registration rolls in Georgia were black. Across the US, one in every 13 black Americans are unable to vote as a result of disenfranchisement laws, counties with larger minority populations also have fewer polling sites and poll workers available.

Unfairness in the electoral college is also a result of gerrymandering. Partisan gerrymandering is when the map drawing process for congressional districts is intentionally done so to benefit a political party. This might be by helping the party win more seats or to protect the seats it already has. The goal of partisan gerrymandering is to create districts that will elect members of one party and few that elect the other party. There are also other forms of partisan gerrymandering which create biased districts. Racial gerrymandering is when the voting power of a specific race or demographic group is being diluted. This also makes it challenging for minority groups to gain representation.

The two part voting system has also only further enhanced the problems through political polarization. The US has been using the two party system for centuries, yet the threats posed by this system today have changed greatly as parties are truly distinct from each other. Scholars have traced this shift back to the midterm elections in 2010. This polarization harms Americans as many issues that were once non-partisan or non-ideological have become partisan issues. This democratic versus republican ideology has caused little space for the bipartisan cooperation that the political system relies on to function. This polarization and divide stems from when Democrats controlled the South after the Congressional Reconstruction in 1860’s. Eventually the Republican Party became better aligned with the South and republicans replaced democrats in the southern House and Senate seats. As the Republican Party led the South it fused social and economic conservatism, with the democratic party’s ideologies mainly supported in the coasts and big cities where social and economic liberalism were fused. Polarization can have devastating effects, congressional dysfunction where Congress is paralyzed in the face of national issues. This usually stems from disagreements with the two parties because Congress is contracted in a way so one party controls the house while the other controls the senate or exercises veto power. This has caused a lack of new public laws that could significantly help Americans being passed. The 112th congress back in 2011 to 2013 was the least productive with only around 220 public laws being passed, many of which were minor. The 84th congress back in 1955 to 1957 passed 1028 bills.

In conclusion it can be seen that voter suppression, gerrymandering and political polarization all pose a great threat to American democracy.

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