The Voter Suppression Myth: Actually, the Right Wants You at the Polls
Exercising, enabling, and encouraging the vote is not a left vs. right issue. It’s not Democrat vs. Republican. It’s not liberal vs. conservative. Voting is American. It’s our civic duty. It’s as American as mom and apple pie. In fact, voting protects both mom and apple pie. If you’re a politician and you mess with mom or apple pie, We The People have the right to remove you from office.
But here's a pet peeve of mine: the conventional wisdom in some circles that the right is actively working to suppress voter turnout. I have never, ever heard of anyone, anywhere that is actively trying to suppress voter turnout. Having traveled the country from upstate New York to the border in San Diego, from Texas to Washington State, and having met with many people of all political persuasions I have a broad perspective on this issue. Everyone I know—and I know folks from the grassroots all the way up to the top of this mess of a political system—wants to see maximum voter participation.
For years, polling has shown that far more people in this country openly label themselves "conservative" rather than "liberal." Moderates are shrinking as a category, and though they are smaller in number than self-identified conservatives, they outnumber liberals as well. The latest Gallup poll on the issue:
"Political ideology in the U.S. held steady in 2011, with 40 percent of Americans continuing to describe their views as conservative, 35 percent as moderate, and 21 percent as liberal. This marks the third straight year that conservatives have outnumbered moderates, after more than a decade in which moderates mainly tied or outnumbered conservatives."
So why would anyone on the right want to suppress turnout? In fact, if you want to be ideological about it, folks on the right should want way more people voting. And we do. This meme that the right wants to depress voter turnout is just hateful fiction. I'm tired of it. It comes from the same people who call tea partiers racist Nazis and who say the right is engaged in a ‘war on women.’ Oh, and we want dirty water and air. It's rhetoric that has no place in a real debate on real issues.
What is the real issue we should be talking about? One of the most important is the lack of participation in the system at the most basic level. Put simply, too few people are voting. And regardless of party or political ideology, we should all be concerned.
We’re all disgusted with a Congress that is, directly or indirectly, responsible for many of the nation’s problems. How disgusted? In November 2010, the approval rating of Congress was just 17 percent—the lowest in our history.
In that same month–when the approval rate of Congress was at an all-time low–86 percent of incumbent members of the U.S. House of Representatives were reelected! Imagine working for a company that is losing money, lays off half its workers, and pollutes the river but then gives its top executives huge bonuses. Something clearly is wrong with such a system, and it’s high time we did something about it.
The way to regain control of Washington is to regain control of Congress. Congress is the most powerful branch of government, and the most powerful
members of Congress are entrenched House incumbents. In order to change things, We the People, of all parties and political persuasions must vote. And most importantly, we must vote in the primaries.
Primaries, remember, are where very few people bother to vote and where a small fraction of the electorate decides who will run in November and return to Washington. As a result, low turnout in primaries represents a real opportunity. That’s because just a small percentage of voters in any district can change the outcome of the primary and, therefore, change who will end up representing that district in Congress.
Why am I talking about primaries just before the general election of 2012? Because now is the time to look forward to 2014 and 2016. Trust me when I tell you that the political parties and their beloved incumbents already are. And they have a plan: maintain the status quo so you have no say in the governance of the nation.
Instead of talking about the nefarious plans of the “right” or the “left,” let’s talk about the real problems in our political system. Now, I'm not naive. I'm sure there are bad people out there, but they are few and far between, and they’re on both sides. And there's certainly no ‘orchestrated effort’ to suppress voter turnout.
We've got to fight back hard against these ridiculous polarizing accusations on both sides from ideologues who profit from the politics of hate. Because the reality is, the great majority of Americans are just good people who love our country, our moms...and apple pie.
Mark Meckler is the President of Citizens for Self Governance and the Co-Founder and Former National Coordinator of the Tea Party Patriots.