Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression

Article excerpt

Blocking the Ballot Box Stealing Democracy: The New Politics Of Voter Suppression By Spencer Overton W.W. Norton and Company, 2006 224 pp., ISBN: 0-393-06159-0 $24.95 Hardcover

The 2000 presidential election offered Americans two significant lessons about the politics and institutions that govern them. First, many people learned the significance of the Electoral College. Notwithstanding how the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately resolved the presidential election, the choice between the Democratic and Republican candidates rested not with the voters - or even the majority of them - but with about 500 virtually unknown electors. The second lesson, and a more fundamental truth about this political system, was about voting itself. This basic feature of any democracy is a disturbingly fragile enterprise in America. Florida's prolonged ballot counting controversy provided a case study of how too many voters in this country go to the polls to choose a candidate for office but fail to do so, either because their ballot is mishandled or because the voter is denied access to the ballot altogether.

It doesn't take an expert to see something seriously flawed about this process. How can the world's most powerful nation and arguably its most advanced democracy run elections in such an inept and incompetent manner?

The politics of correcting this dysfunctional system is the subject matter of Stealing Democracy, an important addition to the national conversation about reform. The book is a great primer for those who do not know much about how elections work but realize that there is a pressing need for improvement. Spencer Overton's contribution is significant because of his experience as a member of the national panel that considered various ideas for reform. His perspective is further enhanced by his attention to the important race and class effects that such reforms can have on limiting access to the ballot. Overton forcefully reminds us that if the "right to vote" is to be more than an empty constitutional platitude, we must take steps to ensure that the franchise is accessible and effective for everyone in our society.

One can locate Overton's view of the current system in his reference to an institution most Americans know a lot about - movies. To paraphrase Overton's point from the movie "The Matrix:" This election system based on equal votes and public accountability that you observe as a voter is not really what it purports to be. …