Whose Vote Counts, Explained

Speaker 1: In 1776, 56 men signed a document claiming something radical. All men are created equal. A couple of lines down. They went further.

Speaker 2: It says quite clearly in the Declaration of Independence that all governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Speaker 3: And then we got the Constitution. The Constitution basically said, yeah, we think that those things are true, but we didn’t mean it for everyone.

Speaker 4: They want some level of democracy, but they own human beings.

Speaker 1: Voting was a privilege almost exclusively for white men with property

Speaker 4: in the founding constitution, you will not find the right to vote.

Speaker 1: And George Washington was elected America’s first president. At most, 20 percent of the governed were eligible to vote, but that number grew.

Speaker 5: One of the great engines of American history is the struggle to decide and declare that voting was a right,

Speaker 2: not a privilege.

Speaker 1: First, black men won the vote, then white women. In 1920, the Native Americans. And in 1971, the voting age dropped from twenty one to eighteen. By twenty sixteen. Around 90 percent of everyone over 18 in America had the right to vote, but only 56 percent actually used it. The United States lags behind most other developed countries in voter participation.

Speaker 5: Our democracy

Speaker 2: is broken. It’s a rigged system and people are angry, people upset,

Speaker 1: and the coronavirus pandemic has made the debate around voting inescapable.

Speaker 2: The mail ballots are corrupt. Some are concerned that, well, if we allow this, there’ll be too many people who can vote. Well, that’s that’s kind of a pathetic excuse. You do have to ask yourself if someone doesn’t really care enough to go down to the school gymnasium and cast a ballot. How eager should we be to get that person’s vote?

Speaker 1: It’s an age old battle in America, whether the vote should be for everybody, just some people, whether it should be easy or hard. It’s the world’s oldest democracy. So why is the right to vote still a fight?

Speaker 2: The great right of all our most important rights, the right to vote.

Unidentified: I’m so grateful to have my daughter again wanting to be front of my.

Speaker 2: Some people gave more than a little blood, some gave to Verilli. I don’t want everybody to vote on leverage in the elections, quite candidly, goes up as the voting populace goes down. Oh, yes, right to vote is the basic right, without which all others are meaningless.

Speaker 1: America has never held an election quite like this one, given the deadly pandemic, states all over the country have extended the option to vote by mail.

Speaker 6: So there’s a small number of states that have universal vote by mail. States like Colorado, Washington, Oregon,

Speaker 1: ballots are mailed to every registered voter, but most states you have to apply like in Kansas,

Speaker 6: the ballot won’t be sent to you until the signature on your request form is verified and matched with the signature that the state has on file with you.

Speaker 1: In some states, you need an excuse to vote by mail in the pandemic doesn’t count. The rules that govern American elections are largely made by state politicians. That’s how it’s always been.

Speaker 5: Voting was always left to the states.

Speaker 6: Different states can try different systems and if they work, other states will copy them.

Speaker 1: And these partizan politicians can also set the rules for who has the right to vote at all.

Speaker 7: You know, I remember in twenty sixteen when my wife ran for office and I couldn’t even vote for her because I lived in Florida, I couldn’t vote for my own wife.

Speaker 1: Florida had stripped the right to vote from all convicted felons for life. But from 2007 to 2011, one hundred and fifty five thousand of them got it back from then Republican Governor Charlie Crist threw a nearly automatic process. Then Rick Scott became governor.

Speaker 7: I would never forget when the governor at the time, Rick Scott, rolled back the clemency policies from the previous administration,

Speaker 1: ex felons now had to make their appeal in an in-person hearing.

Speaker 7: People would basically go in front of the governor and his cabinet and begged the governor to restore their rights.

Speaker 2: I’m here to get my rights back so I can have a voice.

Speaker 7: And the governor would just deny so many people for no rhyme or reason.

Speaker 2: I deny full pardon. I deny a full pardon. I deny restoration of rights and deny the full pardon

Speaker 7: that the whole process was an arbitrary process.

Speaker 1: Scott restored the right to vote to less than four thousand ex felons over eight years.

Speaker 7: And I remember thinking, wow, that’s a lot of power to be able to decide which American citizens get to vote, which American citizens don’t get to vote. And I thought that that was too much power for any politician to have

Speaker 1: Rick Scott then win a seat in the Senate by a very thin margin if he restored voting rights like his predecessor would have lost. That’s why expansions of the vote and face resistance from the beginning. When America declared independence, New Jersey decided to let anyone with enough wealth vote,

Speaker 5: there were women who were widows. There were free African-Americans in New Jersey who said, I own property, I’m going to vote. And they did.

Speaker 1: But then came concerns about voter fraud. Men crossdressing to vote, ineligible women voting by the carriage. After 30 years, New Jersey politicians stripped women and black men of the right to vote groups that also happen to be voting against them. Noncitizens could vote almost everywhere in early America. But over the decades, states took that right away to. And when the federal government began to extend the right to vote to black men in 1867,

Speaker 4: the very next year, Florida passed a law that said those with a felony conviction could not vote.

Speaker 1: The 15th Amendment ban states from restricting the right to vote on account of race. It doesn’t say anything about getting arrested.

Speaker 4: What’s also happening at this time, a rise of laws coming out of these states that criminalize blackness, laws that only black people are subjected to.

Speaker 7: The main reason was to prevent the newly freed slaves from being able to actively participate in our democracy.

Speaker 1: And it wasn’t just Florida. Felony disenfranchisement laws had spread all around the country. White Democrats throughout the South enacted a patchwork of other laws designed to restrict the vote so they could hold on to power.

Speaker 4: They did it by using the legacies of slavery, the legacies of the lack of wealth,

Speaker 1: like taxes you had to pay to vote with exemptions if your grandfather voted.

Speaker 3: Well, if you were a slave, this is the first generation after slavery. No one’s grandfather, if you were black, would have been permitted to vote.

Speaker 4: The legacies of the lack of access to education,

Speaker 1: like understanding clauses and literacy tests.

Speaker 4: The man who helped raise me talked about taking the literacy test and his question was How high is up?

Speaker 3: Yeah, those actually originated in the Northeast and they targeted European immigrants who came from non English speaking countries. And so over and over again, we’ve seen voter suppression target communities sometimes as racially based, but always it’s because those in power do not want to share that power.

Speaker 1: The list went on

Speaker 7: and whatever those policies didn’t cover, we experience state sanctioned violence.

Speaker 3: Voter suppression has existed in almost every state in our nation, but the South was the most effective purveyor of voter suppression.

Speaker 1: The right to vote there was essentially destroyed.

Speaker 4: By 1940, only three percent of African-American adults in the South were registered to vote, three percent.

Speaker 1: In 1964, a constitutional amendment banned poll taxes, but it took until the next year for the tide to break. Hundreds marched for the right to vote in Selma, Alabama, and the images of police brutally attacking protesters, including future Congressman John Lewis, finally shocked the nation and President Lyndon Johnson into action.

Speaker 2: The right is one which no American. True to our principles can deny. With the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the United States finally became the full sense of the word of democracy.

Speaker 1: All these racist tactics became illegal and crucially, states that had disenfranchized the most citizens now had to get preclearance from the federal government if they wanted to make voting harder. The system worked and it changed American politics forever.

Speaker 2: Starting in 1965, after the Voting Rights Act, we saw the emergence of basically a bipartisan consensus to make voting easier

Speaker 1: every time the Voting Rights Act was set to expire. The government reauthorized it.

Speaker 2: As long as I’m in a position to uphold the Constitution, no barrier will come between our citizens and the voting booth. By reauthorizing this act, Congress has reaffirmed its belief that all men are created equal,

Speaker 1: and there were new ideas to make voting easier, like making registration simpler.

Speaker 2: In this country, we don’t have a person to waste

Speaker 1: letting people vote before Election Day.

Speaker 2: They’re voting for president today under the state’s new early voting program

Speaker 1: and expanding voting by mail.

Speaker 2: Everyone eligible to vote in this election. One point four million people receive mail in ballots.

Speaker 3: Georgia actually has one of the most expansive standards for vote by mail. And it was passed by Republicans when they took control in 2005

Speaker 1: and in 2008.

Speaker 2: If there is anyone out there, there’s no question the power of our democracy tonight is your answer.

Speaker 1: Record numbers of people who have been historically locked out of voting elected the nation’s first black president.

Speaker 2: After President Obama got elected in 2008, that’s where this bipartisan consensus kind of broke apart,

Speaker 1: Obama and the Democratic Party had captured the growing diversity of America. Republicans and Democrats in the South had been incentivized to suppress the vote. Now, Republicans were. And in 2013, Supreme Court made that a lot easier.

Speaker 2: Today, the Supreme Court essentially knocked down one of the pillars of the civil rights movement. The US Supreme Court has driven a stake through the heart of the most important civil rights law ever enacted, the Voting Rights Act. Today, the Supreme Court struck a dagger

Speaker 7: in the heart of the Voting Rights Act. In a

Speaker 2: five to four ruling, the court’s conservatives said the areas covered by the Voting Rights Act have changed, but the law has not

Speaker 1: kept up. States and counties the Voting Rights Act had regulated can now changed their election laws without federal preclearance.

Speaker 2: It sent a loud and clear message the Supreme Court was not going to police voter suppression in the way in which courts had before.

Speaker 1: Throughout this period, half of the United States enacted new restrictions on how people voted. Polling places closed and lines at the polls grew.

Speaker 4: I feel like maybe it’s intentional that it’s so difficult to vote

Speaker 1: with black and Latino voters waiting 45 percent longer than white voters. And while states always have to maintain their registration lists, every

Speaker 6: state has this problem of what I call slop on the voter rolls, additional names on the voter

Speaker 1: rolls. The states now free of federal supervision, purged 40 percent more names.

Speaker 2: We saw much, much stricter I.D. laws become much more common.

Speaker 4: It sounds innocuous and is built on a lie. It’s built on the lie of massive, rampant voter fraud.

Speaker 2: A Los Angeles man today charged with voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud, voter fraud, voter

Speaker 6: fraud in the form of a noncitizen voting is also pretty frequent.

Speaker 1: President Trump and Kris Kobach claim that millions illegally voted in 2016 without any evidence.

Speaker 6: If eleven point three percent of aliens residing in the United States voted. But you can probably conclude that a very high percentage voted for Hillary Clinton.

Speaker 2: Not a conspiracy theory. Fuks millions and millions of people.

Speaker 1: Elections have been rigged in America’s history, but it’s politicians, not individual voters, who do it. One election official admitted that in 1948 he approved around two hundred fraudulent votes on the orders of a Democratic political boss so their candidate could win his Senate primary. The candidate, future president Lyndon Johnson. Election security has improved a lot since 1948. In 2017, Trump asked Kobach to lead a commission to look for evidence to back their claims of non-citizens illegally voting.

Speaker 6: There’s never been a nationwide effort to do some sort of analysis of the scope and scale.

Speaker 1: Eight months later, the president disbanded the commission that hadn’t uncovered any fraud. One comprehensive study is found only 45 credible allegations of voter impersonation, the kind of fraud that voter ID laws are for spread that out over 16 years and over one billion votes cast. And another analysis found that in three universal vote by mail states, there were only three hundred and seventy two cases of suspicious votes out of fourteen point six million mailed ballots.

Speaker 2: The evidence of voter fraud is scant vanishing. It’s a minor problem in the United States, if a problem at all.

Speaker 1: But voter fraud doesn’t need to be real for states to restrict the vote. In 2008, a lawsuit over Indiana’s ID law went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Speaker 2: The Supreme Court had a choice between whether or not to say that restrictions on the right to vote because they are a restriction on a fundamental right, have to meet a really high bar in order to be upheld. That’s true with most fundamental rights,

Speaker 1: like free speech in the USA, you can burn a flag, have a neo-Nazi rally and watch adult content all at

Speaker 2: once. The states can’t restrict that unless they have a super, super, super compelling reason, which almost never existed. Instead, the Supreme Court adopted this balancing test of, well, you know, what’s the state’s interest in preventing fraud, even if there’s no history of fraud?

Speaker 6: Frankly, the state of Indiana doesn’t have to prove that voter impersonation or any particular type of fraud occurs frequently in order to legally justify the photo ID law that Indiana had.

Speaker 1: It’s also hard to prove whether any one of these rules has swung an election.

Speaker 2: People are always looking for the one thing that causes voters not to vote. Voter suppression laws work in tandem with one another. Oftentimes these things come in pairs or they come in groups of three or four. And it is the cumulative effect of each of these individual provisions that has a suppressive effect on voting.

Speaker 3: I ran against the secretary of state.

Speaker 1: Brian Kemp is both the candidate and in charge of the election

Speaker 3: under Secretary Kemp. More people have lost the right to vote in the state of Georgia. He purged one point four million voters, including nearly half a million people who should not have been removed from the rolls. He oversaw the closure of two hundred and fourteen polling places, which, according to independent analysis, meant that between fifty four thousand and eighty five thousand people physically could not cast a ballot because they simply could not get to the place where the ballots had to be cast. When it was my turn, after waiting three hours, I had difficulties with casting my vote because the machine kept

Speaker 2: in and it was pausing and freezing and they told me there was nothing

Speaker 1: that we could do about it. Under Georgia’s exact match law, a registration with a slight spelling mismatch to government records like a short name or missing accent could be put on hold. And that happened to 53000 people.

Speaker 3: 80 percent of those people were people of color, 70 percent of them were black. The machinery of democracy should

Speaker 2: work for everyone everywhere, not just in some places and not just on the

Speaker 1: first day, camp one by 55000 votes, which means it’s just not clear if these tactics tipped the race. It’ll forever be a question. And while we can’t know the full impact of these policies around the country, we do know that the pandemic is making this problem so much worse.

Speaker 2: Obviously, this is an enormous problem, an unprecedented problem that will drive the country toward early voting, toward absentee voting and toward voting by mail.

Speaker 1: But some states don’t have early voting rules around mail in voting, remember, are all over the place. And the huge influx of mail ballots are more likely to be rejected, especially if you’re young.

Speaker 2: If you vote by mail, you have a one to two percent chance that your ballot won’t count. But when you dig into that data further, what you find out is that not everyone’s ballot has an equal chance of being rejected.

Speaker 1: Florida rejected less than one percent of mailed ballots in 2018 for voters over 65.

Speaker 2: But when you looked at the other end of the spectrum, voters 18 to 21, they five point four percent reduction in

Speaker 1: the most common reasons for rejection. The voter didn’t sign where they needed to or their signature didn’t match the one on file or the ballot, didn’t make it back to election officials on time. And all this is getting much worse. In 2020,

Speaker 5: NPR analyzed primary election data and found at least five hundred fifty thousand mail ballots were rejected, most of them from first time absentee voters.

Speaker 2: And the US Postal Service, something we all rely on as the center of a bitter battle.

Speaker 3: President Trump doubling down on his opposition to giving twenty five billion dollars in needed funding to the U.S. Postal Service.

Speaker 2: They need that money in order to have the post office work in

Speaker 3: order to block expanded mail in voting for November’s election because he believes it will benefit Democrats.

Speaker 1: If you are voting by mail, you’re probably going to need some stamps and make absolutely sure you’re following the instructions. Remember to sign in the right spot, get your voting early, and if you’re worried, avoid the mail. Most states have Drop-Off options.

Speaker 2: I didn’t put my name in the mail because I have concerns about the U.S. Postal Service right now.

Speaker 1: All those extra mail ballots mean we can expect results on election night. It might be election week or month. The lawsuits are already mounting, fighting over whose votes should get counted. And for some people, they’re still fighting for the right to vote at all. In 2018, alongside the candidates on Florida’s ballot, voters could decide whether to restore the right to vote for former felons. Florida had disenfranchized 10 percent of its voting age population, 20 percent of its black voting age population.

Speaker 7: How long did I have to endure this? How long do people like me have to wait to be able to vote again?

Speaker 1: It took building a movement

Speaker 7: like it was a great day to day. I was on the campaign trail for well over four years.

Speaker 1: Desmonte, in the Florida Rights Restoration Committee needed hundreds of thousands of signatures.

Speaker 7: I’ve put over fifty thousand miles a year on my car, just driving from town to town, county to county.

Speaker 1: Five point one million voters chose yes to extending the right to vote to one point four million more.

Speaker 2: Florida restored voting rights to nearly one and a half million former felons.

Speaker 5: They paid their debt to society. Now let them vote.

Speaker 2: Once they pay the price for what they’ve done, I think they ought to have their rights restored in

Speaker 7: this political climate where there’s so much hate and fear. There were five point one million votes that was based on love, forgiveness and redemption.

Speaker 1: After Florida’s people voted to restore voting rights to felons, their elected officials had their own vote requiring felons to first pay all their court fines, fees and restitution, putting half of those newly eligible voters in flux. The new Republican governor, Rhonda Santurce, who had won by only 30000 votes, cheered and called voting a privilege.

Speaker 2: Floridians overwhelmingly voted to enfranchise felons if people are still putting impediments in the way of the right to vote for these felons. Shame on them. And it’s up to the courts of Florida to make them stop.

Speaker 1: The Supreme Court refused to intervene and dissent. Justice Sotomayor wrote, The court’s inaction continues a trend of condoning disenfranchisement.

Speaker 2: I think the big question facing our democracy right now is whether the right to vote is slipping back.

Speaker 1: America is the world’s oldest democracy. We still carry the weight of that old age if we really wanted everyone to vote. We could learn from those countries where more people do vote. Most have elections on weekends, not Tuesdays, and a few voting is more than a write. It’s a duty like jury duty, and almost all of them make voter registration entirely automatic. Some states have implemented automatic voter registration, these ones let voters register on Election Day, and North Dakota doesn’t have registration at all, but mostly Americans need to deal with registration themselves in advance. So don’t wait. Do it now. Find out more information at Vox Dotcom slash vote. The people most likely to vote today look like those who didn’t have to fight for the right to vote. Whiter, richer, older. And that’s not an accident,

Speaker 7: if your vote didn’t matter, why the hell are so many systems and people trying so hard to prevent you from voting?

Speaker 4: This right to vote has been a battlefield in American democracy.

Speaker 1: All of us may have been created equal, but will never actually be equal until we all vote.

Speaker 7: Moms and dads took their kids, you know, to vote with them during the civil rights era. How I get to do that now? How I get to take my family with. In twenty twenty, we’re making this part, yes,

Speaker 2: our time, yeah, you have our voices heard.

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