Allan J. Lichtman

 

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

Cover Interview of August 21, 2019

Lastly

I wrote The Embattled Vote as both a history and a call to action. A New York Times review said that it “uses history to contextualize the fix we’re in today. Growing outrage, [Lichtman] thinks, could ignite demands for change. With luck, this fine history might just help to fan the flame.”

Outrage over the Supreme Court’s abdication of a judicial check on partisan gerrymandering should rivet attention on the remedies in Chapter 8. The state of Florida ironically offers an anti-gerrymandering model for the nation. In 2010, 62 percent of Florida voters backed a state constitutional amendment to restrict partisan gerrymandering for congress and the state legislature. After years of resistance from Republicans in the state legislature, the state courts compelled the redrawing of district lines to treat each party fairly. Florida-style amendments could be effectively combined with redistricting conducted by independent commissions to stifle pernicious gerrymandering, with enforcement by the state not the federal courts.

An affirmative right to vote amendment, like the version of the Fifteenth Amendment that Congress rejected in 1869, would bring America into line with most other democratic nations and with international conventions. It would not invalidate every restriction on the vote, any more than the right of free speech invalidates libel and slander laws. But it would rebalance the scale of justice in favor of the voter, not the state.

Other reforms are in reach even without a new amendment. A lack of registration locks out tens of millions of potential voters. The opportunity to register when showing up to vote and automatic enrollment when applying for or renewing a driver’s license or applying for government services, could substantially reduce this barrier. Other reforms with the potential to expand turnout and improve the conduct of elections include a restoration of Justice Department preclearance, elimination of felon disenfranchisement, and federal aid for upgrading voting technology and protecting the vote from manipulation by the Russians or another malevolent foreign power.

The Embattled Vote optimistically concludes that America can reclaim her place in the front ranks of the world’s democracies. Simple, practical reforms are within reach to enhance access to the vote in America, end discriminatory practices, and help assure that people’s vote will count effectively in the election of public officials. But change will come only if the American people demand it. America needs the kind of concerted grassroots action that led to enactment of the Voting Rights Act.