Allan J. Lichtman

 

On his book The Embattled Vote in America: From the Founding to the Present

Cover Interview of August 21, 2019

The wide angle

The Embattled Vote shows how the right to vote grounds participation in the decision-making of America’s democratic republic. Extreme disparities in income and wealth are embedded in today’s America. But all Americans are equal in the polling place. The future course of U. S. politics will depend on the level of voting participation by American citizens.


rorotoko.comLibrary of Congress. American Memory.

The real problem with democracy in America is not the nearly non-existent voter fraud that politicians use to justify restrictions on the vote, but low voter turnout. Nearly 40 percent of American citizens did not vote in the tightly contested presidential election of 2016, leaving some 90 million votes on the table. Turnout is far lower in primary contests that set the choices for voters in general elections. Only about 8 percent of American citizens chose Hillary Clinton as the Democratic nominee and only about 6 percent choose Donald Trump as the Republican nominee.

A shattering study by political science professors Martin Gilens of Princeton University and Benjamin Page of Northwestern University found that not ordinary Americans, but wealthy interests, seeking profit, power, and control, shape policy outcomes in the United States. The influence of ordinary Americans over policy registers at a “non-significant, near-zero level.”

Until the late twentieth century, Democrats in the South mainly benefitted from restrictions on the franchise. Now it is Republicans that benefit. The GOP’s base of older white Christian voters is the most shrinking part of the electorate. The party cannot manufacture more of these voters, but it can attempt to limit the rising Democratic base of racial minorities and young people. America is moving toward two separate democracies, a more restrictive one for red states and a more expansive one for blue states.

My interest in voting rights is both academic and practical. As a graduate student at Harvard University in 1967 I wrote a research paper on enforcement of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, the first voting rights law since Reconstruction. This work alerted me to the many obstacles that still confronted potential voters in America and led to my work as an expert witness in voting rights litigation.

To date, I have worked as an expert witness in more than 90 voting rights cases. Nearly every case was fiercely contested, with white leaders battling to keep the privileges that flowed from control over politics in their states and communities. This experience infuses the pages of The Embattled Vote.  It brings life and excitement to my account of the unending struggle for voting rights and provides an insider’s account of landmark cases available from no other source.