Why Is Voting So Difficult in America?

Think of the myriad things we can do with the click of a mouse or the touch of a finger. Transfer money from one person to another. Buy an airline ticket. Secure a mortgage. Make a medical appointment. Arrange a car ride across town. Purchase groceries, clothing, shoes, and almost every other necessity of life. Technology has made these tasks and many more easy, fast, and reliable. So why is it so damn difficult to cast a ballot in an election?

I voted by mail in the recent recall election in California. It was simple, but this is California, not Texas or Georgia or South Carolina. I should add however that in my view the recall election was totally unnecessary, a perversion of the process. Like Gavin Newsom or hate him, he was at the time of the recall the duly elected governor with a term in office to serve. Newsom wasn’t accused of fraud or incompetence or gross negligence or high crimes or anything else that would justify removing him from office before his term expired. Newsom’s approval rating was actually quite high. And if Newsom had been charged with high or low crimes and needed to be removed, the lieutenant governor should have succeeded him for the remainder of the term. More than anything else the recall was about political opportunism.

Wealthy, powerful and connected elites have always been stingy with the franchise. America’s Founding Fathers were leery of democracy because they believed it could easily lead to mob rule. One of the great horrors of the Reconstruction period was the prospect that formerly enslaved men would be granted the legal right to vote and run for office. As historian Bruce Levine writes in The Fall of the House of Dixie, when this situation came to pass “Forces committed to restoring white supremacy launched a ruthless, bloody campaign of terror and intimidation against freedpeople and their white allies in the South.” And we shouldn’t forget the long struggle that women waged to secure the right to vote.

Our political leaders extol the virtues of democracy when it suits them but in practice most support narrowing and restricting the franchise as much as they can get away with. One way to do this is to make voting as difficult and tedious as possible so that potential voters throw up their hands in frustration. Every time a prospective voter is dissuaded from registering to vote and casting a ballot and having that ballot accurately tabulated, the Power status quo breathes easier; they don’t want their careers and privileges subjected to the whim of the masses, they want to select their voters and make the outcome inevitable.

If our political and economic masters wanted the masses to vote, Election day would be a national holiday. The process would be as easy and convenient as ordering a pair of shoes or a bag of groceries. Don’t tell me we lack the capability because it’s not true. What we lack is the will. The current system works just fine for some, Democrats and Republicans alike, and they will fight in ways subtle and overt before they consent to change.

Brian Tanguay writes about politics, culture, and books. Co-founder of the California Review of Books and the long running blog, Shouts from the Balcony.