As the next presidential election in the United States approaches, I was drawn to this book by Michael Waldman, which explores this history and importance of voting. Waldman takes the reader as far back as the Founding Fathers and the constitutional conventions to explore some of the earliest sentiments on voting and elections in the early republic. He tackles some of the sentiments about how the Fathers thought of constructing voting eligibility and how the threshold might make for a stronger country, which obviously disenfranchising large portions of the population. The Fathers did not feel that the federal government should take the lead in setting out a system of voting or elections, feeling that deferring to the states was the appropriate answer. It is essential to note at this early stage, there is nothing enshrined in the US Constitution about the right to vote, which serves as an interesting thread for the rest of this tome. As history progressed, other groups found themselves eager to have their voices heard, including the recently freed slave population, women, and eventually those in poorer parts of the country. It is most interesting to see how Waldman explores the continued expansion of suffrage, while also noting that with the power to set the rules in the states, there were also loopholes to keep groups out that did not defy anything constitutional. The latter portion of the book speaks specifically about these ‘tests’ laid out in the South for black voters, in a blatant attempt to keep their voices silent. To this day, there are state-based blockages that keep large segments of the population from having their voices heard, as Waldman explores in detail. On this point, Waldman spends the last bit of the book examining the US Supreme Court’s interpretation of First Amendment free speech and the removal of monetary limits for election contributions, while coming down hard onanistic group seeking special ‘sway’ to gain the upper hand in being permitted to vote. Fascinating to see how deliberately partisan things have become and how many people’s voices remain muted into 2020. An eye-opening piece if ever there was one on the history of voting and the importance that the fight towards true universal suffrage continue in the United States, particularly up to November 3, when there is a chance to return America (and the world) to greatness after four years of embarrassments!
Many will know that I love all things political, especially when history gets added to the mix. I find that in these uncertain times in the realm of geo-politics, it is essential to have a handle on things taking place in my own proverbial backyard. Waldman does a sensational job of laying out all the nuances of voting and elections in America, taking the reader slowly through the progress of events and how they impacted the Republic as a whole. There is so much to cover and yet Waldman lets the narrative flow smoothly and keeps the reader enthralled throughout the telling. From the foundational aspects of an electoral system to ensure a strong new country through to the means of interpreting the base rules to favour one party over the other, Waldman shows that politics is at the core of elections. With substantial chapters and many key examples, the reader will not feel shortchanged, but can easily use much of what is discussed here as a springboard to learn more, should the interest arise. Going so far as to offer a warning of what is to come in US electoral politics, Waldman makes it clear that voting is not being given to Americans on a silver platter, but it must be earned. Moreover, it will be a fight that should not be squandered or an issue dismissed until a later time. Just think what things might have been like in November 2016 had all eligible voters cast their ballots and not been blocked from doing so to tip the balance in one direction (not including the Russian collusion that we all know was rampant). Get out there, Americans and fight for what is yours. The world is watching and eagerly wants to see what your electoral voices have to say.
Kudos, Mr. Waldman, for this excellent examination of voting. I will be reading another of your books, recommended to me, and I hope it is as riveting.
A Book for All Seasons, a different sort of Book Challenge: https://www.goodreads.com/group/show/248185-a-book-for-all-seasons