Civil Rights and Election Reforms

The Right to Vote is Meaningless Without Political Competition

Voters all across our country are angry and calling for political change. The newly formed Tea Party slogan is, “Take our county back.” Tea Party members are not calling for a rebellion against a foreign nation that is unjustly ruling our country. Instead the Tea Party wants Americans to take their country back from the self-serving politicians who are ruining American cities, counties, and states.

A few isolated incidents of political discontent are one thing, but the growing number of people across America who are fed up with American politics and politicians signals serious problems with our political system.

The tampering of Chicago elections for 16 years during the Daley administration is just one of countless examples why the United States needs civil rights and election reforms. Besides municipal elections and the rigging of elections in Chicago, we have been subjected to tainted elections for Cook County and Illinois state offices as well as the U.S Senate, U.S. House of Representatives, and even the presidency of the United States.

Presidential candidates initially seek the support of local political organizations, just as President Obama first acquired the support of the Chicago political machine before he sought help from local political organizations outside of Illinois. Local political organizations that operate throughout the U.S greatly influence national politics. When regional politicians and political organizations unduly sway local voters in support of their favored presidential candidate, it tarnishes the race and office of U.S. president.

The fact that three additional constitutional amendments to protect voters were necessary shows that our founders in 1791 did not put enough protection for voters into America’s original Constitution. In 1870, which was 79 years after the Constitution was signed, the 15th Amendment prevented the denial of the right to vote on the basis of race, color, or previous servitude.

Even then, from 1870 until the signing of the 1964 Voters Rights Act, the 15th Amendment was not enough to prevent African Americans from being denied their right to vote. Elected officials used literacy tests and poll taxes to disenfranchise African Americans of their voting rights. The 24th Amendment which banned poll taxes, was ratified the same year as the 1964 Voting Rights Act stopped the use of literacy tests.

American women were denied their right to vote on the basis of gender for 129 years from the time the Constitution was ratified. The 19th Amendment guaranteed women their voting rights in 1920.

The first political candidates and leaders were white males. By denying African Americans and women the right to vote, white male political leaders automatically retained their political power. The disenfranchising of voters goes on today just like it has since the Constitution was ratified in 1789. Today, however, disenfranchising voters is done in more subtle ways.

Current politicians do not discriminate against a specific class of voters as they did with African Americans or women. Instead, incumbents and political parties use campaign financing, non-existent or weak ethics laws, and self-serving election rules to limit political competition from outsiders, reformers, or critics. A few reform candidates are lucky enough to be elected, but the current political system is too big and entrenched for any major political change to occur.

The Constitution does not require the United States to have a Democratic and a Republican party. Yet the two major political parties retain their power because they limit political competition from third parties and independent candidates. There is no better proof of this than the dismal history of third party failures. Limiting political competition goes on at all levels of government. National, state, and local Democratic and Republican organizations work together to thwart any attempts by third parties to establish themselves.

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution was added to protect the specific class of African American voters. The 19th Amendment was added to protect the specific class of female voters. In 1971 the 26th Amendment reduced the voting age from age 21 to 18. The 26th Amendment especially targeted the class of voters between the ages of 18 and 21.

Now it is time for an amendment that ensures fair competition in all elections. Elections held without a guarantee of political competition for all political candidates and political parties greatly reduces our individual right and power to vote.

A Simple Solution to Ensure Political Competition

Our country needs a specific constitutional amendment that ensures that all elections are fair and competitive. Current election laws give incumbents and political parties unfair advantages over their political competitors. Incumbents and political parties have not earned their advantages through superior governance or public service. Rather incumbents and political parties owe their political advantages to the laws they enacted to protect their political party and offices.

The constitutional amendment guaranteeing fair and competitive elections can be as simple as this: “No law or regulation shall provide a political party or candidate with an unfair advantage over political competitors. All candidates and political parties shall engage in fair and competitive election practices. Voters shall vote in elections that are governed by fair and competitive rules.”

Since our country’s inception, competition has been sought and promoted as a sacred principle. For example, to prevent the large states from having a substantial political advantage over smaller states, our founders established two legislative houses. Smaller states benefit from having an equal number of U. S. senators as large states. Larger states benefit from having more representatives than smaller states in the U.S. House of Representatives. That is how competition between smaller and larger states remains balanced and fair.

Competition makes each competitor stronger and better as a result of the challenges met during a competition. Competition is fundamental to business. There are anti-trust laws against collusion, price fixing, monopolies, and unfair business practices. Anti-trust laws guarantee that every product, business, and market faces competition. Every sport has rules that ensure players compete in a fair game or match and protect each competitor equally. It is only fair that members of Congress should face the same level of competition that they require of every product, business, market, and sport.

Learning Politics from “Dirty Harry”

During an “Inside the Actors Studio” interview, host James Lipton asked Clint Eastwood, “Why did you run for mayor of Carmel-by-the Sea, California, in 1986?” Eastwood replied that when he and friends were talking politics, he  asked his friends two basic questions: How do we get these guys out of office? Who do we have to run against the current office holders?

Because Eastwood and his friends could not come up with a viable candidate, Eastwood decided to run for mayor himself. Most cities and states don’t have a person with the name recognition. financial resources, and integrity of Eastwood to remove entrenched incumbents from office. Had there been political competition in Carmel-by-the Sea in 1986, Eastwood would never have asked, “How do we get these guys out of office?”

Since President Obama has been in office, he has sought health care and financial reforms. Obama is now moving on to immigration reform. But President Obama has failed to undertake the two most important reforms: civil rights and election reform. Civil and voting rights are supposed to provide voters with the means to check and balance any reforms enacted by the president and Congress. Unless Americans believe their vote counts and that they can do something to change our political system, Americans will only grow more cynical and angrier. Health care, finance, and immigration reforms are meaningless without the civil rights and election reforms that are necessary to preserve our democracy.

Voter discontent has never been higher. The anger of voters has been building up for quite some time. If voters had been able to vote in fair and competitive elections, they would have already voted unworthy incumbents out of office.

The political governance of our country and state of our economy should not have had to sink so low in order for the political winds to shift. Major political change would have happened much sooner had elections been fair and competitive. Now it’s time for voters and candidates all across America to demand civil rights and election reforms and toss out those in office who have opposed these basic rights. Let’s start by getting rid of Mayor Daley.