Blake. S., a student from Stratford STEM Magnet High School took top honors in the Tennessee Bar Association’s 2014 Law Day Essay Contest. Blake won 1st place and will receive $300 as well as recognition by the Nashville Bar Association. From here his essay will move on to the state competition.
American Democracy, Voting Rights, and Rules of Law: A Global Reality Check
Never before have we seen a nation so devoted, passionate, and insistent on democracy as the United States of America. Specifically, democracy is defined as the ability of the people to identify, implement, control their chosen way of life, and government by something as simple but precious as casting one vote. As President Barack Obama said “When our government is spoken of as some menacing, threatening foreign entity, it ignores the fact that, in our democracy, government is us.” In reality, America and its citizens have been the victim of an aggressive attempt to manipulate the election process by overt and covert actions in order to circumvent, disrupt, and dismantle the rule of law and every individual’s right to vote.
Unfortunately, in the history of America, there are clear, specific, and extensive examples of voting disenfranchisement (depriving a person of their right to vote). Specifically, the intentional effort to circumvent, disrupt, dismantle, and prevent American Indians, African Americans, Women and other minority populations from exercising their voting rights that are allegedly guaranteed in a democracy and by the rule of law. Suppression of this fundamental right was described by historian Eric Foner as “America’s unfinished revolution”. I consider this to be an ongoing effort.
For example, disenfranchisement supporters utilize violence, fraud, poll taxation, literacy testing, and questionable constitutional law interpretations to achieve their objective of direct and indirect manipulation of the vote that they want. The Supreme Court actively undermined federal executive powers to protect black voting rights i.e., refusal to acknowledge the practice of racial discrimination. Although the practice of racial discrimination still exists, I believe that it has been minimized and that most people recognize this progress.
That being said, per the U.S. Department of Justice, up to 7% of African-Americans have lost the right to vote as a direct result of disenfranchisement, also referred to as the “new Jim Crow laws” sadly leaving these citizens with no representation. Compare this to the fact that only 1.8% of whites are disenfranchised. How can any common sense logic support a concept that prevents over 5.3 million people from voting because of a felony conviction? Especially disconcerting is that over 4 million of these have served their sentence and therefore by definition paid their debt to society.
In comparison to other countries, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, Americans are born with equal rights and preservation of these rights is a guaranteed priority, not only for America but also throughout the world via aggressive nation building. During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. Department of State and Justice implemented a unique joint Iraqi-Afghan U.S. task force to suppress, investigate and prosecute those responsible for a numerous high-profile murders, assassinations, sectarian violence, and voting disenfranchisement. Obviously, it was clear that the Iraqi and Afghan people had no legitimate voting rights, government leaders (dictators) were chosen by power brokers, and this practice was unacceptable to the U.S. Department of State and Justice. The goal of this task force was to promote and preserve the right of all Iraq and Afghan citizens to vote without fear, intimidation, or manipulation. Clearly, an objective of Americas Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) was to implement “Nomocracy” the influence of law in a society or the protection of rights, i.e., Rule of Law. The monetary cost of nation building is extremely high but insignificant when compared to any loss of life, physical, and/or mental injuries to soldiers or civilians. GWOT and the pursuit of global democracy under the rule of law and nation building continue as a priority of America.
This is best explained by Mahatma Gandhi who stated “To safeguard democracy the people must have a keen sense of independence, self respect and their oneness, and should insist upon choosing as their representatives only such person as are good and true”.
In puzzling contrast, the United States strives to promote democracy in Iraq and Afghanistan, yet allows or promotes disenfranchisement at home. Congress has voted on bills that hinder minorities from exercising their right to vote. For example, in 2013 the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act which required any changes in voting laws at a state, or local level, to be approved by the federal government. Although enacted to prevent discriminatory voting laws, Texas and North Carolina took advantage of this by implementing voter identification laws to protect against voter fraud. In reality, just the opposite has been achieved. Texas allegedly identified approximately 800,000 voters who do not meet the criteria to vote…most of whom is Hispanic. This is easily explained when it is acknowledged that Hispanics in Texas are 46% to120% more likely not to have an approved identification card. According to a study by the Brennan Center for Justice, one third of women have citizenship documents or identification that does not match their current legal name. Disenfranchisement activities aggressively continue and expand, affecting not only African Americans but Hispanics and Women as well.
Although not perfect, America strives to promote equality at home and globally by nation building. When historians reflect on our nation they are likely to opine that “The constitution of the United States of America was the greatest feat in human history.” As Abraham Lincoln said “We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constititution.” As a high school student, I insist that we do more, let us work together to eliminate disenfranchisement at home and globally to ensure that “everyone” has an equal voice. I predict that America and the world will be even greater for it.