Originally published in Business Insider
By Dave Dodson
In 1986, Ferdinand E. Marcos, the president of the Philippines and de-facto dictator, was facing a serious challenge from Corazon C. Aquino. In a document later prepared by the US State Department, close to 3.5 million citizens likely to cast a vote for Aquino were systematically disenfranchised by shifting them into different polling districts. The effect led to what the State Department called a “massive and targeted disenfranchisement,” focusing not on race or gender but on one’s political beliefs.
Today, America is experiencing a similar systematic disenfranchisement, except on a much wider scale. With mathematics, big data, and geocoding, it has become an everyday practice in the US to sort voters based on political belief, and then mathematically group their votes for the sole purpose of rendering some votes meaningless and others more valuable.
Whether it is done with the violence of a baseball bat or the sophistication of computer code, the effect is the same: deliberate voter suppression to rig the outcome.
Past efforts at addressing the practice have been waged principally for partisan advantage. For example, New Hampshire’s Republican Gov. Chris Sununu last month vetoed a bipartisan bill that would have established a citizen commission to protect voters from rigging districts to create a partisan outcome.
In Michigan, the state’s former Republican governor is using the courts to fight a similar bill which was overwhelmingly approved by Michigan’s voters. In both New Hampshire and Michigan, nonpartisan redistricting was believed to benefit Democrats.
Similarly, former President Barack Obama recently put his energy behind the efforts of All On The Line, an affiliate of the National Democratic Redistricting Committee, with the stated mission of “One Person. One Vote.”
An analysis of their 10 priority states shows that all but one of those targets have legislatures controlled by Republicans, meaning that All On The Line’s priority is not ending gerrymandering but ending gerrymandering in states where Republicans get to draw the lines.
Their efforts noticeably skip over America’s most gerrymandered state, Maryland, which has systematically disenfranchised Republican voters. Six of the 10 most gerrymandered states, like West Virginia or Kentucky, are also not targets, for the obvious reason that fair redistricting for Republican dominated states would not yield additional congressional seats for Democrats.
But voting rights are not a value to be applied selectively based on partisan advantage. If gerrymandering is wrong in Michigan it must also be wrong in Maryland.
The proper remedy to this undemocratic trend is an amendment to the constitution, the place we have shaped our current election and voting practices throughout our history. Constitutional amendments are often viewed as extreme and largely impossible measures.
But the right to vote was never mentioned in the original Constitution, and virtually every voting right we have — including those allowing and protecting the right to vote for women, blacks, native Americans, non-landholders, and those over the age of 18 — were created through a series of Constitutional amendments passed between 1866 and 1971.
Further, protecting the privacy of one’s political beliefs has been a cornerstone of voting rights since 1884, when nearly every state began the practice of secret ballots. By then it was widely understood that protecting voter rights required the privacy of one’s political beliefs. But today partisans use voter registration, algorithms, and data mining to bypass the secrecy of our ballot to infer who we voted for, and then to use that information to sort our votes with the specific purpose of giving some individuals more or less say at the ballot box.
The solution is to add the words “political beliefs” to the protections currently afforded us in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. By doing so, just as it is unconstitutional to draw districts based on race, it would be equally true for political beliefs.
The consideration of who someone voted for in the past, or who they might be inferred to vote for in the future, would become illegal to consider; affording a Republican in Maryland, or a Democrat in Michigan, the same rights to protection we once demanded for a black woman in Mississippi.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of political belief, race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The relationship between citizens and their government is fundamental to any republic or democracy, which is why in the United States the principles of voting rights and the conditions under which our representatives serve have not be left to custom or legislation but enshrined in the US Constitution.
Throughout our history, minority populations have had their voting rights denied or openly suppressed in order to alter natural election results. Whether a minority status results from gender, race, or political beliefs, the protection should be the same.
David Dodson is a former candidate for Senate in Wyoming and a lecturer in management at the Stanford Graduate School of Business.