It was nearly 50 years ago that Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren declared, "One man. One vote." He was speaking in 1963, when the Court was grappling with the issue of equality in voting and representation.
But the idea he was expressing— that inside the ballot box, all voices are created equal—is at the very heart of American democracy.
Only, in a presidential election, "one man, one vote" is just that—an idea. Because the truth, in practice, is this: individual voters— the "one man—or woman"—do not choose the leader of our nation. That decision falls squarely in the hands of another American institution—the electoral college. A presidential candidate does not dream of 51%. He dreams of the number 270. 270 electoral votes to secure the White House.
This means many Americans are effectively disenfranchised in presidential elections. Are you a Democratic voter living in the deep red west? Well, your vote for the school board or for Congress might matter a lot, but your vote for president? Not so much. Your blue vote in a solidly red state is obliterated by the winner-take-all electoral college. Same is true for you Republican voters living in the blue beacons along the American coast. Kind of a one man, no vote scenario.
But, if you're a voter in Nevada, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, Ohio, New Hampshire, Virginia, North Carolina, or Florida—representing a total of 110 electoral votes—your vote matters. A lot. These battleground states—those that could reasonably go to President Obama or to Mitt Romney— carry the weight of choosing the president for the entire country. It's almost like battleground voters are one man-two votes!
And of these critical states, those voices that are usually relegated to the margins—people of color, the poor, the elderly, ex-felons— don't just matter, but matter in ways that can decide the outcome of the election. Which is why this next map is equally—if not more important—as the electoral map, in understanding what's at stake in 2012. Because this is how those voices in the margins could be silenced on election day.
All the states highlighted in green—an unprecedented number—introduced legislation in 2011 that will restrict access to voting in this year's presidential election.
That's 34 states that have introduced photo ID laws... at least 12 states with new legislation that would require proof of citizenship to register or to vote... at least 13 states with laws that would end Election Day and same day voter registration and limit other registration efforts... nine states that introduced bills to reduce their early voting periods... and two states—Florida and Iowa—that have disenfranchised the majority of their citizens with past felony convictions after previous legislation attempted to restore voting rights.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, those laws will disproportionately impact low income and minority citizens, and students —all eligible voters who already face the biggest hurdles to voting.... and all people who tend to vote Democratic. Because you see, this is a question of strategy. What this isn't, is the new Jim Crow. Because the old Jim Crow—the only Jim Crow—was wholly about the subjugation of Black people under a system of white supremacy. Black and white. Voter suppression in 2012—whether it's purging thousands of eligible voters from voting rolls, or restricting rights with voter ID and registration laws, or disenfranchising ex-felons—is about two different colors —red and blue. And rigging the system to take the meaning away from the majority.