Voting Is the Spinal Column of Democracy
If you’ve ever had the chance to examine a human vertebral column up close and personal you’ve probably been stunned by its architectural stability, its flexibility, its facility in protecting the spinal cord, and its sheer aesthetic beauty. In most humans — although it is fairly common to have extra vertebrae, or a “caudal shift”— the vertebral column is made up of seven cervical vertebrae, twelve thoracic, five lumbar, and the five fused vertebrae of the sacrum. The vertebrae increase in size from top to bottom, and the column curves to better support the weight of the torso and transfer it into the pelvic girdle and legs, thus facilitating bipedal locomotion. The spinous processes of the vertebrae provide attachment sites and in the lumbar especially overlap creating almost a shield wall for the vertebral foramen or spinal canal. Each vertebra is distinct but overlaps with its partners just enough to create a strong, architecturally sound structure whilst maintaining flexibility and rotation.
But when things go wrong pathologically for the spine, disaster is in the offing. Ankylosis—or fusion of vertebral elements—may limit flexibility, cause pain, impair breathing, and increase the risk of injury. Trauma or repeated strain can damage or dislocate intervertebral disks. Osteopenic disorders may undermine the stability of the column and even lead to fractures in the vertebral bodies themselves. And on top of all this, because the spine is made up of so many different individual bones with delicate little elements, there are a number of fractures which may result. Any of these conditions—whether they be pathogenic, endocrinal, traumatic, or other—can be painful or even result in permanent disability.
So, too, with democracy and voting rights.
Democracy is an engineering wonder of a political system, but it requires the participation, engagement, and equality of each voter and each vote to work properly. This is a pretty simple concept. Democracy, particularly American democracy, is meant to provide government for the people, by the people. This means that everyone should have at least the realistic opportunity to vote and that it should further be feasible for any given individual, regardless of background, to run for office.
Democracy is an engineering wonder of a political system, but it requires the participation, engagement, and equality of each voter and each vote to work properly.
The argument has been made that, as voting is a privilege, it should be restricted only to “upstanding” or “propertied” or “intelligent” citizens. But this is inherently flawed. These delineations are arbitrary and governed often not only by luck, but by parentage. What exactly is an “upstanding” citizen? The difference between felonies and misdemeanours is sometimes just the difference between which demographic supposedly committed such crimes more often at some point in the past. So, if you’ve had a moving violation should you be allowed to vote? Must one produce their diplomas to vote, and is a G.E.D sufficient, or should one produce a doctorate? Does property count if you’ve inherited it?
But even if we ignore these borderline-absurd delineations, there remains an underlying problem that voter suppression is inherently damaging to democracy. A person who has spent a night in jail will have a very different perspective on the matter than a person who has not. A person with property will not understand the issues of someone who cannot afford to earn degrees. And smart people can be remarkably dumb about issues they’ve never experienced. Democracy works when it has a diversity of perspectives. Democracy is strengthened only by inclusivity. If a part of your spine — however small and seemingly insignificant — is damaged, it impacts your mobility, your breathing, and your well-being. Until it heals.
Any further attempts to control the body politic without correcting voter suppression results in further — and entirely justified — mistrust, further damaging democracy.
There is no advantage to voter suppression. Voter suppression pulls the structural supports out of democracy. It makes government stagnant and unresponsive to the populace and it eliminates social mobility. The elements become fused in place; immobile. If a measure is passed or a civil servant elected when there is mass voter suppression, the measure or the “leader,” will not be respected or trusted. A public unwilling to trust the system, is akin to vertebral inflammation. If left untreated, it wears down the structure of democracy. Any further attempts to control the body politic without correcting voter suppression results in further — and entirely justified — mistrust, further damaging democracy.
Voter suppression is a disease with many vectors — voters have been purged, intimidation on Election Day sometimes drives voters from the polls, long lines may cause frustration, and registrations have been ignored — but in all cases the cure is the same.
The cure to voter suppression is engagement and holding elected officials accountable. Voting should be easy and require little work, but until that is the case for all citizens in all democracies, it is vital to the health and stability of democracy that we fight voter suppression.
So, what can you do?
Go to vote.org, vote.gov, or if you are living abroad even if just for a semester, votefromabroad.org, to register to vote, check your state voting guide, request a ballot, check on a ballot’s status, or complete a backup ballot.
Look up your representative using your US zip code at https://www.house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative and your Senator at https://www.senate.gov/senators/index.htm. Click through to find their contact information.
Call your representatives and tell them if you’ve liked something they’ve done, if you hated something they’ve done, or if you have a suggestion. And don’t forget to include your US zip code.