De Anza College Voter Suppression and Democratic Rights Reading Response Take notes on the reading that are organized in a visually memorable way. Your not

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Rigging the Game 91
clearly shown that there was
most important, it was
and is no
tected by American law.
so Rigging the Game
tests having to prove that one could read before being al
Lawes imposed poll taxes (fees charged for voting) and literas
lowed to vote) 34 After decades of protest that culminated in
tions were swept away. It would seem, then, that the right to
the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, these obstrue
vote-which is surely a crucial right in any society that
claims to be democratic-is guaranteed by and firmly pro-
Yet in recent years new laws have created new obstacles to
participation for some members of society. These laws are
sometimes referred to as “voter suppression” laws, because
they can lower the turnout of certain groups of voters. Per-
haps the best example is voter identification (or voter ID)
laws, which require people to show a government-issued pic
ture ID before being allowed to vote. At first glance, such
laws might seem reasonable. After all, we have to show iden-
tification for many things. In fact, proponents of voter ID
laws used this familiarity to make their case: “It’s just like
having to show ID to cash a check in a grocery store,” they
problem of voting fraud that can be solved by requir-
to show a picture ID when voting.35
So if there was and is no problem of voting fraud-that is,
problem of people impersonating other people, which is
solve-what is the point of these laws? The answer is in the
the only conceivable problem that showing a picture ID would
realm of partisan politics. Republican strategists and elected
officials knew that voter ID laws would be most likely to sup-
thus giving Republican candidates an edge. Claims about
widespread voting fraud were used to mask the partisan intent
clumsily admitted in a nationally televised interview, the new
voting laws will “kick Democrats in the butt.”36
North Carolina, the state where I live, provides a good
example of how changes in voting laws reflect partisan
intent. A package of voting-related laws passed in 2013 in-
cluded not just the picture ID requirement (except that a
picture ID from a college or university does not count) but
also a shorter early voting period, elimination of same-day
Republican party leader in North Carolina
of the laws. As one
said. They also said that voter ID was needed to stop wide-
spread voting fraud.
Opponents of voter ID laws argued that in the United
States voting is akin to a sacred right, and to equate it with
check cashing or buying beer fails to respect the far greater
importance of everyone being able to have a say in the politi-
process. Critics also pointed out that millions of eligible
voters across the country-especially among
minorities, the elderly, and college students–did not have
the right kind of ID and might have trouble getting it, and
thus would be more likely to be deterred from voting. But
poor, ethnic
“There were, of course, many white people who could not read, yet they
were exempted from literacy tests by “grandfather clauses”-special rules
that allowed them to vote if their grandfathers had voted.
35Justin Levitt, “The Truth About Voter Fraud,” Brennan Center for Jus-
tice at New York University School of Law, 2007, accessed July 24, 2014 See
also Natasha Khan and Corbin Carson, “Comprehensive Database of U.S.
Voter Fraud Uncovers No Evidence That Photo ID Is Needed,” News21,
August 12, 2012, accessed July 24, 2014,
article/election-fraud/; and John Wasik, “Voter Fraud: A Massive, Anti-
Democratic Deception,” Forbes, November 6, 2012, accessed August 12,
36The Republican Party official, Don Yelton, made this statement in an inter-
view that appeared on The Daily Show in October 2013. He also said that if the
new voter ID law “hurts a bunch of lazy blacks, so be it.” After the interview
was broadcast, the North Carolina Republican Party asked him to resign.
e, one that gives
ready have the advantage
e rules has resources or un
can be found in me
nce upon a time, to get
cade (e.g., machining,
you had to get a sponsor
trade. That was the rule
e of your race, ethnicin
ortant for getting jobs.
of the game changed to
Before then, job open-
Hissing the Game 89
Exclusionary entry rules reproduce inequality not only by
allowing some groups to hoard resources but also by making
it hard to change other rules that rig the game. For example,
when the United States was founded, only white men who
owned land could vote. Women, blacks, and indentured work-
ers couldn’t simply organize a voting bloc and get rid of politi-
cians they didn’t like. In the South, after Reconstruction
collapsed in the late 1800s, whites created laws to keep black
people from voting, thereby severely limiting their political
power. Some of these obstacles remained in place until the
mid-1960s.33 And it was only in 1920, after more than 70
of bitter struggle, that women in the United States gained the
right to vote.
Keeping people away from the rule-making apparatus means
that those who are marginalized must beg, plead, or raise a
fuss to make changes. Working politely within the system isn’t
an option if the rules keep a group from even getting a seat
at the table. Of course, those who make the rules will argue
that things are as they should be and no major changes are
needed. After all, they will say, the best and brightest have
achieved legitimate authority and are now running things
in the best interests of everyone. But once the game is
shown to be rigged, these claims to legitimacy can evapo-
rate like mist.
which meant that only
d about those jobs. If
ypical, chances were
networks were white,
kept out of good jobs
ings and thus never
hicago: University of
Status Attainment,”
nd Deirdre Royster,
Exclude Black Men
ia Press, 2003)
s. For more on af-
firmative Action in
Voter Suppression and Districting
In the previous section I said that white people in southern
states used to create laws that made it nearly impossible for
black people to participate in the political process. These
ssociation, 1998),
Facial segregation
herine Zimmer,
Tricia McTague,
Workplaces by
ical Review 71
33 The Voting Rights Act of 1965 formally removed the last of these obsta-
cles. See Gary May, Bending Toward Justice: The Voting Rights Act and the
Transformation of American Democracy (New York: Basic Books, 2013).
92 Rigging the Game
Rigging the Game 93
preregistration for 16 and 17 year olds, and elimination of
registration during the early voting period, elimination of
solve problems with our electoral process. The aim was to
laws, much like those passed in other states, did not aim to
impede the ability of some voters-in this case, those more
likely to vote for Democratic candidates to exercise their
right to vote. Use of any such laws by any political party to
give its candidates an unfair advantage in elections consti-
when it comes to
tutes rigging the game.
There are, of course, truly illegal ways to rig an
What districting

ties. If such problems are discovered, they are readily
Ballot boxes can be stuffed with phony ballots. Voting
chines can be tampered with. Ballots can be intentionally
lost or miscounted. Voters can be threatened with violence
well-run, closely monitored elections in democratic socie-
knowledged as problems and denounced as intolerable. But
what I have been pointing to here, in discussing voter sup-
of these laws is thus to impose a kind of race and class bias
determining who is eligible to vote.37
Felony disenfranchisement laws limit the ability of some
individuals to participate in the political process. Other
kinds of laws related to elections can limit the ability of
whole groups of people to get representation in government.
The classic example of this is “gerrymandering” or, in generic
terms, political districting.
or redistricting because it is done peri-
odically) amounts to is drawing the boundaries of political
Republicans; conservatives or liberals; white people or people
of color-are more or less likely to get elected to state legisla-
tures or to Congress. One common strategy is to draw district
so that people of color are never a majority in
district. A variation on this strategy is to put all people of
color in one district, so that they can elect one, but never
more than one, representative. Boundaries can also be drawn
so that voters who usually vote Democratic or Republican are
either never a majority or always a majority. As a result, some
people in these districts will find it hard or impossible to elect
a candidate who speaks for their interests. This being the
case, some eligible voters get frustrated and withdraw from
the electoral process entirely.
In US society, we’re often told that the proper way to
change laws is to join in the electoral
who will make the changes we seek. This sounds nice, and
sometimes it works. It’s also possible, however, for a group to
pression, are rules that are written into law and seem legiti-
mate to many people, even though they unfairly limit the
ability of other people to participate in the political process
or to get representation through that process.
Another example is “felony disenfranchisement,” a term
that refers to losing the right to vote if you are convicted of a
serious crime. In eleven states felony disenfranchisement is
permanent. This means that if you are convicted of a felony,
you can never vote again, even after you have paid your debt
to society, in whatever form that might take. Today, nearly
6 million otherwise eligible voters in the United States cannot
vote because of felony disenfranchisement laws. A high pro-
portion of these people are members of ethnic minority
groups, or from low-income backgrounds, or both. The effect
37 For a broad analysis of this problem, see Michelle Alexander, The New
Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness New York: New
Press, 2010).
94 Rigging the Game
it’s about understanding L
comes institutionalized, L
ways that people do thir
said, these routines are
people play by the rule
granted about how thir
can be done without ce
voter suppression laws are reemerging today.
take control of the rule-making apparatus and then
control to keep other groups from being able to participate in
an equal footing. In other words, a dominant group can ervan
laws that give it not only economic advantages but also make
system to make change. This was the case in the Jim Crow
it hard or impossible for other groups to work within the
South, and it appears that similar tendencies in the form of
conditions, the political system itself might need to be called
into question, and disruptive protest of some kind might be
needed to change it. As former US president John F. Kennedy
warned, “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible
It’s not that indiv
Under these
The rules of a game
will make violent revolution inevitable.”
under every circum
stance be anticipate
for people to impro
sonalities. Even so
and processes can
sonalities of the in
violent game no
but because the
interact to make
same principle
be examined.
and its po
There are many more laws and policies that reproduce ine-
quality than the few I’ve discussed here. The point of the ex-
amples has been to show why it’s important to examine the
rules of the game if we want to understand how inequality is
reproduced. I’ve also tried to show how to look at the rules of
the game. The same strategy-looking at how the rules are
used to create an unequal distribution of resources, to hoard
resources and opportunities, and/or to preserve control-can
be used to analyze any specific case. Let me suggest what else
to keep in mind when looking at things this way.
Keep in mind that this is not about personalities. It’s about
understanding how a system works.38 Or, in terms I used earlier,
This perspe
how inequality
absence of co
Instead, we sh
the rules. Th
tentions dor
This means
people who
again, web
game they
It’s also
38The distinction between the individual and the system is crucial to so-
ciological thinking about inequality. Allan Johnson’s discussion of this
distinction in chapter 2 of The Gender Knot, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Temple
University Press, 2005), 27-50, is exemplary.
with cons
them at of

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