Portion of Parkland votes suppressed
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school on Feb. 14, 2018, was a shocking reminder that in the 21st century, the American public is constantly faced with the threat of gun violence, be it in our schools, public spaces, or places of worship. It seems that every time we look at the news or turn on the television we learn of another gunman, another location, and another slew of victims, deaths that tear communities apart.
Rather than accepting our terrifying new status quo, survivors of the Parkland shooting banded together and demanded change, focusing their rage and grief into political activism that manifested into marches, protests, and rallies. Similarly, teenagers across the country, inspired by their zeal for gun reform, staged walkouts as a show of unity, keeping the topic alive in the national conversation.
But beyond the demonstrations, the core message was simple: those in power, by way of being passive, allowed this tragedy to happen, and they must be voted out of office if there is going to be any change.
To millennials who are frustrated with the current political system, exercising the right to vote is offered as the panacea. If you don’t like something, just vote to change it, and if enough people feel the same way you do, then that change will happen. This method of majority rule is the cornerstone of our democracy, with each citizen given the ability to voice their opinion via the ballot box and representatives respecting and serving the will of the people.
As fair and just as the system sounds on paper, we know that that’s not how things really work because those in power seem keen to suppress dissident votes, maintaining their status through questionable methods that seek to disenfranchise the opposition. We see this in the past through our history with racially-motivated gerrymandering and ludicrously difficult voter exams aimed at discouraging minority voters, and more recently in Georgia’s gubernatorial race between Brian Kemp and Stacey Abrams. Now, according to a study conducted by Daniel A. Smith, chairman of the political science department at the University of Florida, voter suppression has also affected the votes of Parkland teens in the November midterm elections, with 15 percent of ballots submitted by Parkland residents between the ages of 18 to 21 being rejected.
While it is true that portions of ballots were rejected since they were submitted past the voting deadline, it does not change the fact that the rate of rejection was higher than the state average, strongly implying that there was voter suppression. Then again, this is an unsurprising finding, as the Republicans of Florida, backed by the National Rifle Association (NRA), will do everything within their power to ensure that guns continue to sell. To them, the answer is never fewer guns.
Simply voting, it seems, is no longer good enough because our ballots can be invalidated for any number of contrived reasons. While in the case of Florida, Republicans are to blame for voter suppression, the problem is not confined to one political party either: Democrats are also responsible for voter suppression, with states like New York having abysmal voter turnout rates due to convoluted laws and regulations. Although Republicans are the ones who are frequently blamed for voter suppression, it’s important to see that neither party is fully intent on playing fair. For them, doing what is best for the people appears a secondary concern to maintaining power and control.
That’s not to say that nothing is being said or done about voter suppression. As we approach the 2020 elections, Democratic presidential candidates like Senator Elizabeth Warren have honed in on the issue. While Warren focuses more on presidential elections and eliminating antiquated processes like the Electoral College, her passion for national voting and ensuring that every vote counts is refreshing to see.
Another approach towards combatting voter suppression — though it has largely been discredited and abandoned — is to use electronic voting, whereby individuals cast their ballots digitally rather than having to report to polling locations. A few states already have such a system in place, but it is only accessible to those under extenuating circumstances. It’s not hard to see why electronic voting is such an unpopular idea: for something as sensitive as political elections, our cybersecurity would have to be impregnable, which it clearly is not, as all the recent Facebook scandals have shown. In order to implement electronic voting, we would have to have incredibly high-level infrastructure that would be immune to hacking or influence by foreign powers, a goal many see as impossible. Yet with the current rate of technological development, it is not inconceivable to one day have secure digital voting. Furthermore, voting electronically has one key advantage, being that technology is the great equalizer. Nowadays, most people either own or have access to a smartphone or a computer with internet access, eliminating the current barriers to voting. While such a reality is likely in the future, we should not outright discredit the possibility.
With this foundational American institution under assault from across the political spectrum, voting reform and accountability should become the highest priority. After all, how can we reasonably expect to solve problems like climate change, healthcare, and gun control if we cannot vote the representatives into power that best align with the values of the voting-age population? Those in power should represent the views of the majority and act accordingly since a government should be based on the consent of the governed. Fixing the voting system will help us return to this social contract, which in turn will allow us to move forward in tackling the grand challenges that stand in our way.