Allan J. Lichtman

 

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

Cover Interview of August 21, 2019

A close-up

I would turn your attention to pages x and xi of The Embattled Vote, which illuminate my work as an expert witness in voting rights litigation. In the 1980s I worked mainly on cases challenging the outright exclusion of minorities from participation in governance. Recently, however, my work has evolved to litigation dealing with racial and partisan gerrymandering, photo ID laws, and other thinly disguised restrictions on the franchise.

My greatest satisfaction still comes from my early work in localities like Selma, Alabama—the birthplace of the Voting Rights Act—where whites had oppressed black people throughout their lives. At the risk of their livelihoods and safety, African Americans often joined civil rights groups as plaintiffs in voting rights law suits.

Consider also pages 53 and 54 that describe America’s first voting rights lawsuit, filed not in the 1960s, but in the 1830s by William Fogg, a black citizen of Pennsylvania. Fogg and other excluded voters had no recourse to the federal courts because of the Constitution’s silence on voting rights. He charged in state court that election officials had violated Pennsylvania’s color-blind constitution by barring him from voting because he looked black. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court rejected Fogg’s claim by writing black people out of American democracy. It found that “no coloured race was party to our social compact,” and that Pennsylvania should not “raise this depressed race to the level of the white one.”

Examine pages 256-257 where the book draws attention to the current crisis of American democracy. It cites ideological polarization, cynicism about government, lagging voter turnout, and unchecked foreign interference in American elections. In some ways, today’s democracy resembles the economic stakeholder model of the eighteenth century. Restrictions on registration and voting and alienation from politics have produced a cadre of nonvoters that is disproportionately minority, young, and economically disadvantaged.

Then turn to Chapter 8 on “Reforming American Voting.” It introduces and explains the reforms that can redeem our democracy. I discuss these innovations below.