By Jason Harrow
The Fourth of July is a time to celebrate our nation’s independence. And it’s a moment to reflect upon our nation’s founding principle that governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed.
Our democracy has come a long way since our nation’s founding. In 1776, at most 80% of adult white males could vote — and 0% of any other group could. Nor, in the very first election under the new Constitution, could anyone vote for U.S. Senator (since state legislators picked those). In most states, most people never cast a presidential vote either, since state legislators mostly picked electors too.
Our republic was all the worse for being so restrictive. It is no coincidence that America began to flourish as the scope of our democracy expanded and as African-Americans, and women, and non-property owners, and young people gained the right to vote and to become leaders. This connection has been called the “democracy dividend” — according to the evidence, the more expansive a democracy is, the more peaceful and prosperous a nation will be.
But in recent years the once-rich returns of our democracy dividend have slowed to a trickle. In many places, it’s gotten harder to vote, not easier. And in many respects, the voices of everyday voters matter less, not more. These are troubling signs for our future peace and prosperity. We must figure out how to keep growing our democracy dividend.
In that vein, we wanted to feature on this holiday two wonderful blog posts by our wonderful summer fellows, Naomi Truax and Danny Holt. Though they highlight our democratic deficit, both Naomi and Danny remind us why there is ample reason to keep fighting.
In her article, Naomi thoughtfully reflects upon her experience growing up in a gerrymandered district in North Carolina. She explores the feeling of political powerlessness when your vote doesn’t count, and outlines a solution to end gerrymandering after the recent Supreme Court decision.
Meanwhile, in his article, Danny argues that the practice of felon disenfranchisement is a stain on our democracy and violates the “unalienable rights” promised in the Declaration of Independence. But above all, he chronicles the progress being made to push our democracy forward.
I hope these reads will make a good addition to whatever else you do on this special holiday.
Jason Harrow is Equal Citizens Executive Director and Chief Counsel.