Increasing number of voters can alter public policy
FREDDIE ALLEN | 10/5/2015, 1 p.m.
WASHINGTON (NNPA) – The key to changing public policy in key areas is increasing the number of people who vote, according to a recent report by Demos, a public policy group that supports economic and social equality.
When compared to White voters, non-White voters were more likely to support policies that increased government spending on the poor, guaranteed jobs and a standard of living, and reduced inequality.
“White affluent voters, who have the highest voter turnout rate, tend to oppose many policies that a majority of Americans, including nonvoters and non-affluent voters, either support or do not oppose, which suggests that such policies could be much more winnable if nonvoters voted,” the report said.
Even though the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution recognized the right to vote of Black Americans, the report noted that, “unofficial restrictions and suppression in Southern states and cities until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 established strong federal protections for the freedom to vote by banning or limiting many of the discriminatory election policies and practices of the Jim Crow South.”
When it comes to public policy, voting patterns and voter “turnout gaps” have serious far-ranging implications.
“First, those who vote have more representation than those who do not. Second, those who do not vote tend to have views that are more economically progressive than those who do vote,” the report said. “And third, voting plays a significant role in the distribution of government resources as well as the size of government and who benefits from public policies.”
Strict registration deadlines, photo identification requirements and racially motivated redistricting policies continue to block low-income and minority voters from the ballot box, the report said.
Millions of ex-offenders, disproportionately Black and Latino, also face significant voting restrictions upon release, if they are allowed to vote at all.
The report found that continued attacks on voting rights contributes to large disparities in some cases where White Americans, and particularly affluent White Americans, out-participate “people of color, low-income people, and young people by significant-to-wide margins.”
The report continued: “As a result, large numbers of lesser-advantaged Americans are left out of the democratic process: in 2012, 26 million eligible voters of color did not vote, and, among eligible voters earning less than $50,000, 47 million did not vote.”
This means that the needs of tens of millions of Americans are effectively ignored when public policies are crafted.
“On every issue for which Demos was able to obtain data, non-registered people were more progressive than registered people, meaning (for our purposes here) more supportive of policies that help lower-income Americans and those with less opportunity due to institutional and interpersonal racism,” the report said.
Forty percent of Blacks turned out to vote in 2014, compared to 46 percent of Whites. While voter turnout among Blacks dropped 40 percent between 2012 and 2014, White voter turnout decreased less than 30 percent.
The report attributed high Black voter turnout during the last two presidential elections to the success of the Voting Rights Act, the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and “other voter registration policies.”
According to the report, “In 2012, Census data showed that Black voter turnout was higher than white turnout, with white turnout at 64 percent and Black turnout at 66 percent. In 2014, however, Black turnout was 5 points lower than white turnout.”
The Demos report recommended making same-day registration easier, expanding compliance under the NVRA, and moving toward automatic voter registration.
“Political scientists have shown that the requirement to register dramatically reduces voter turnout,” the report noted. “This effect primarily hurts poorer and younger Americans and people of color, particularly Latinos and Asian-Americans.”
The report concluded: “To be a truly representative democracy, the United States must strive for universal, fully inclusive voting. If we achieve this goal, our elected bodies will better reflect the full diversity of Americans, including the viewpoints of millions of Americans who do not currently have an equal voice in our democracy, which all people deserve.”