Voting rights are under siege in America, declares the author, who proposes several sweeping remedies.
With expertise honed while working for the National Voting Rights Institute and the Carter/Baker Election Reform Commission, Overton (Law/George Washington Univ.) explains how democracy can be subverted without citizens even noticing. Disenfranchisement does not always occur at the voting booth, he warns, providing cautionary tales about computer gerrymandering, partisan oversight of elections and systemic discrimination based on race, class, native language and criminal history. At every turn, Overton finds self-interested politicians maneuvering to cut deals, protect their jobs and tip the scales for their allies. Many readers will be sympathetic to reform after reviewing his litany of undemocratic incidents and self-incriminating remarks about rigging elections made by unwary politicos. Overton cites encouraging precedents for major electoral reform, from the intricate case law advancing African-Americans’ voting rights to the constitutional amendments enfranchising women, minorities and draft-age Americans. (The 26th Amendment granted the right to vote to those as young as 18 after the Vietnam War.) But he also warns that some enemies of democracy are trying to co-opt reform to reduce voter turnout. Dissenting from the Election Reform Commission on which he served, he skewers new photo-ID requirements as unnecessary barriers to voting and instead advocates universal voter registration. The book’s rigid formula—a brief history, recent case study and bite-size solution offered in every chapter—sometimes wears thin. Yet Overton makes a compelling case that beneath the rhetorical flourishes, American democracy is governed by a flawed election system: often capricious, sometimes unjust and rarely understood by the general public. To change this, Americans will need energy, optimism and “a mindset of resistance and independence.”
An approachable and constructive work.