On Tuesday November 7th, Americans go to the polls for mid-term elections, to choose state, county and district officials. Even in national elections, many voting procedures are determined by the state governments. Not everyone is happy about those procedures and how they’re implemented. Many African Americans say there’s widespread manipulation in order to suppress their votes. These feelings have given rise to skepticism and disillusionment.
One analyst who’s been looking at the issue is Spencer Overton, a law professor at George Washington University in Washington, DC, and the author of a book entitled “Stealing Democracy: The Politics of Voter Suppression.” VOA English to Africa Service reporter Angel Tabe asked him how voter suppression occurs.
“Politicians use gerrymandering and a variety of other barriers to the ballot, to determine who votes and whose vote counts. Voters don’t always choose politicians, but sometimes politicians choose voters.”
Overton says the practice of gerrymandering occurs across the United States. Politicians redraw political districts to add loyalists, take out non-loyalists and assure themselves big wins. “In 2004, Congress had only a 40% approval rating and yet 98% of incumbent congressmen returned to Washington, DC; they won their elections…. Here in the United States we’ve got a conflict of interest where politicians are in charge of rules for their own elections.”
Overton blames electoral fraud on election officials, not voters. “…There are too many (elections) that are corrupted by conflict of interest…. Most people do it; they accept it as part of the game.” He points to cases in which a vote was cast for one candidate but ended up being counted as a vote for the opposing candidate. Overton calls for action, describing the problem as worsening. “We need real procedures to examine voting machines…tools tailored to deal with real problems…not to end up actually discouraging legitimate voters from casting ballots.” And he has some recommendations to discourage voter suppression and disillusionment. “We certainly should stop manipulation by auditing election offices and the private vendors that supply electronic voting machines…. [We should] have independent commissions to administer elections…[and] open up access by ensuring election day registration and voting.” He notes that some states, including Florida, Kentucky and Virginia, impose a lifelong ban on voting on former felons, “even after [they] have completed their prison sentences.”
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