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Join the Electorate, Demand to be Heard

By Janelle Cronk

We may think that because we are a part of the population, our needs should be addressed by our representatives. But, if we aren’t registered to vote, then we aren’t a part of the electorate. Politicians and elected officials represent and appeal to those in the electorate through their campaign promises and policies, but this doesn’t always reflect the values of the entire population.

Think about the first steps of running a city council campaign. Many politicians begin by studying the voting history of their district. The constituents of that district who didn’t participate in previous elections aren’t reflected in this assessment. The candidate doesn’t consider these opinions because they don’t impact the likelihood of winning the election. Should democracy work this way? No. Does it? Often.

When planning a campaign, politicians may consider the views of the population, but their focus is on the electorate. The electorate, a body of people entitled to vote, includes only those in a community who are registered to vote. By influencing who is in the electorate, politicians and political parties can influence the likelihood of their success. Thus, by restricting who is eligible to vote, they can erase the needs of entire communities. Voting restrictions unequivocally disadvantage black, brown, and minority voters.  

In December 2017 the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Phillip Alston, visited the USA. Alston addressed issues of voter disenfranchisement, asserting that the “net result is that people living in poverty, minorities, and other disfavored groups are being systematically deprived of their voting rights.”

As Kat Calvin, the Founder of Spread the Vote, put it, “the people whose votes are suppressed are the people whose everything are (sic) suppressed. Its poor and brown people, elderly people, young people, etc.” Think about this for a minute. The people who are often kept out of the electorate are the same people whose rights are consistently abused. How are they expected to protect their basic human rights when their right to vote is withheld from them? Being a part of the population is not enough to demand one’s rights—you must also be a part of the electorate.

Alston claimed that the USA is experiencing an “undermining of democracy” such as in 2016 when studies found that, “only about 64% of the U.S. voting-age population (and 70% of voting-age citizens) was registered, compared with 91% in Canada (2015) and the UK (2016), 96% in Sweden (2014), and nearly 99% in Japan (2014),” (Alston)

Voter suppression is carried out in many ways including; voter purges, claims of voter fraud, barriers to registering to vote and felony disenfranchisement. For example, nearly 6.1 million Americans are barred from voting due to a felony conviction, “a rule which predominantly affects Black citizens since they are the ones whose conduct is often specifically targeted for criminalization,” (Alston).

Another form of suppressing representation is at play in the debate surrounding the proposed citizenship question on the 2020 Census. The Campaign Legal Center argues it “would significantly lower and skew response rates, leading to an undercount of minority communities,” which impacts the apportion of seats in Congress.  

While there are clear efforts at controlling and suppressing the electorate and representation, there are also attempts at expanding the electorate and ensuring proper representation. These include attempts at registering young voters, appeals for automatic voter registration, and the likes of recently launched celebrity campaigns such as The Last Weekend and When We All Vote.

So, if people want to prevent you from registering to vote so badly. . . do you still think your vote doesn’t matter?

We sincerely hope not. #FirstWeRegisterThenWeVote.