THE ISSUE: A recent survey determined Alabama has the least-healthy democracy in the nation. It’s time for the state to encourage voting, not look for ways to suppress it.
A recent survey on the health of democracy in the 50 states and the District of Columbia ranked Alabama 51st in the nation.
The survey, by the Center for Progress American Action Fund, looked at numerous factors. The healthiest democracies, by the group’s standards, were those that provided broad access to voting, equal representation in state government and a limited concentration of influence over the political system.
The Center for Progress is a liberal group, but the standards by which it evaluated state democracies are ones the nation has long cherished.
On one factor after another, Alabama exhibits a pattern of discouraging people from voting.
On accessibility of the ballot, the state allows no voter preregistration for 16- or 17-year-olds. It does not offer online voter registration or portable voter registration.
Early voting is not allowed, and its requirement voters show photo identification adds a major hurdle to those without driver’s licenses.
The state also scores low on representation in state government. Females, blacks and Hispanics are underrepresented in government. Districts are drawn in such a way as to minimize the influence of black voters, a fact being scrutinized by federal courts.
Ex-felons remain disenfranchised even after they served their sentences.
Alabama also is one of the worst states in the nation in terms of the influence of money on the political system. There are no contribution limits on individual campaign donations and weak campaign disclosure laws. Legislative data is not easily accessible to the public.
It has become almost cliche to marvel at how frequently Alabamians vote against their own interests. We routinely reject tax initiatives that would have minimal impact on the majority, but that would improve schools and thus increase income mobility. We elect representatives who siphon money from the public schools that educate 90 percent of our children, and who fight federal programs that would benefit most Alabamians.
We endure a tax system that exacts a far greater percentage of the income of the poor and middle class than it does of the wealthy.
The Center for Progress survey is a reminder one of the poorest states in the nation routinely votes in ways that hurt the poor, in part, because the poor face numerous barriers at the polls.
America’s success is inextricably tied to democracy. Not only do we enjoy a more effective government when we maximize voter participation, we avoid the hostility and violence that comes when a large segment of the population is convinced it has no voice in self-governance.
Alabama needs to broaden access to the polls, strive for equal representation and minimize the influence of money in state politics. These are not liberal goals. They are goals that are essential to a healthy democracy.
(Published July 10, 2015)