Archived Opinion

Obstacles to voting and fair elections are intolerable

op frBy Martin Dyckman • Guest Columnist

Occasions such as Memorial Day and the D-Day anniversary remind us of the fallen and the freedoms they died to protect. Speeches and commentaries extol the rights specified in the Constitution, religion, speech, assembly and press among them.

But the right to vote is rarely mentioned. If you’re crafting remarks based on the Bill of Rights, voting is nowhere to be found. The architects of the United States left it to the states.

Although subsequent amendments spelled out who could not be barred on account of factors such as race or sex, the states still control whether voting will be convenient or difficult. The Fourteenth Amendment and the Voting Rights Act apply, but it can be time-consuming and expensive to invoke them.

Voting is our most fundamental right because it is the key to protecting all the others. It is also the most endangered. As we have been seeing, ALEC-infected legislatures like North Carolin’s are ingenious at suppressing opportunities to vote.

Some would make it even harder.

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On the radical right — and not just among the Tea Party — there’s a growing fervor to repeal the 17th Amendment and have legislatures rather than the people choose U.S. senators again. Ted Cruz, the Republican front-runner for president, and Antonin Scalia, the Supreme Court justice, are identified with this.

Obvious obstacles to the ballot box such as voter ID, limited polling places and restricted voting hours aren’t the only devices for subverting your right to vote. The other way is to waste your vote by gerrymandering it into irrelevance. The current court challenge to the congressional district map that North Carolina Republicans contrived offers glaring examples.

A recent Washington Post article identified three of the nation’s 10 most grotesquely gerrymandered districts as being in North Carolina: the First, Fourth, and 12th congressional districts. They look more like slides from a psychiatrist’s ink-blot test than anything having to do with responsible government.

All are held by Democrats, which was the point. By cramming them with far more Democrats than it would take to win an election, the Republican map-drawers gave themselves the advantage in most of the rest. Despite polling less than half the votes, the GOP won nine of the 13 seats.

The fourth even bears an uncanny resemblance to the salamander shape that was identified with Gov. Elbridge Gerry’s 1811 Massachusetts outcome-rigging scheme — the original “Gerrymander.” 

That one favored Democrats. Currently, according to the Post article, the Democrats are short 18 House seats nationally thanks to Republican gerrymanders like North Carolina’s.

The point, author Christopher Ingraham wrote, “isn’t to draw yourself a collection of overwhelmingly safe seats. Rather, it’s to give your opponents a small number of safe seats, while drawing yourself a larger number of seats that are not quite as safe, but that you can expect to win comfortably.”

Ingraham rated North Carolina and Maryland as “essentially tied for the honor of most-gerrymandered states.”

Democrats were the culprits in Maryland, which simply makes the point that this form of vote suppression has a bipartisan history. To cure it ought to be a bipartisan cause as well. Ideally, every congressional election ought to be close. But in 2012, only one of North Carolina’s was. Among those in which votes were cast, according to the public interest group, nearly 1.3-million Democratic votes were “wasted” — that is, surplus to the winning margins. Fewer than 400,000 Republican votes were. The Republicans who drew the maps saw to making their votes count.

For several sessions, there has been bipartisan support in the N.C. House of Representatives for a nonpartisan redistricting process similar to Iowa’s, where nearly every congressional race is fairly contested. But it never gets even a hearing in the Senate, and it didn’t come to a vote even in the House last year.

Thom Tillis was too busy suppressing the right to vote to invest any energy in vindicating it. And now he wants to be a U.S. senator. Never did anyone deserve it less.

Martin A. Dyckman is a retired journalist who lives in Waynesville. He is the author of several books on Florida politics including  Reubin O’D Askew and the Golden Age of Florida Politics, Floridian of His Century: The Courage of Governor LeRoy Collins, and A Most Disorderly Court: Scandal and Reform in the Florida Judiciary. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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