In tone and tenor, the Democratic and Republican voting-rights planks could not be more different. But there’s clearly room for a third way. The most elemental civil right, the one from which all other rights ultimately flow, is the right to vote. Can we all at least agree on that? This election year, to a degree unimaginable even in the wake of the Florida recount and Bush v. Gore, the issue of voting rights and election procedures is a key part of the political debate leading up to the first Tuesday in November. It’s as if some great lock has been turned, some vast door has been opened, and all the primal grievances from those furious days in November and December 2000 have come pouring out again. Add to the mix strident white fear about America’s changing demographics over the interceding decade, and you have a combustible brew indeed.
This year on the battle lines, from Ohio to Florida to Pennsylvania to Texas to South Carolina and beyond, we’ve heard from lawyers and politicians, from judges and election officials, from bureaucrats and weasels and cranks. The Republicans say voter fraud must be stopped and that stringent registration laws are the way to stop it. The Democrats say that there is no such voter fraud and, even if there were, Republican laws to stop it are discriminatory. So far, the courts have agreed with the Democrats. So far, the U.S. Supreme Court has stayed out of the fight. So far.
Nowhere is the gulf between the two parties more stark on voting rights than it is in the language of their respective national platforms. Read the two planks (below) one after the other, and it’s like you are reading about two different Americas. I suppose it’s like that everywhere this election season, with each party’s fiercest partisans describing an America unrecognizable to the fiercest partisans on the other side of the fight. Below are the two planks. Which America belongs to you? More important, perhaps, to which America do you belong?