Judith Shklar, in her American Citizenship : The Quest for Inclusion, describes citizenship as requiring two components : the right to vote and the right to earn. However, Shklar does not significantly dwell on people opposing these two components to citizenship, such as a vote being blocked or someone being denied earning. This first case is the one I would like to focus on, specifically with regard to the issue of an insider working against outsiders being included through one of these two methods.
In the recent primary elections of the United States of America, significant blockades were claimed across the country as many people attempted to vote in person, only to find a blockade they could not manage : lines so long that would-be voters would have to do nothing but vote on that day, or even voters not being registered for the party they said they were, thus not allowing them to vote . These individual issues are not the only ones that arise; Jonathan Brater, of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program claimed that 17 states have implemented voting restrictions. These issues were not localized in Arizona, and issues were also reported in New York .
Although such voter suppression claims are present, what does this mean for Shklar’s definition of citizenship? Well, one could argue that since the ability of voting has been blocked, citizenship has also been denied, not necessarily in a strict sense, but in a looser sense. Since voting days are typically one-time affairs, just a simple issue like not having proof of citizenship can stop someone from voting entirely, since this issue is coupled with a long wait time in a line at a polling place further than usual since closer ones have shut down. What would typically be a 20 minute round trip to grab an extra document turns into a 10 hour affair on a workday, when the polling place might close down at the end of the process (rigidly ending the voting day) or the voter gets so dissuaded and demoralized that they leave (loosely ending the voting situation). In this way, the strict right to citizenship has been denied through the suppression of voting.
Although one had the right to vote, and attempted to exercise this right, I believe that since the ability to vote has been denied, citizenship has in fact been denied in this situation. Despite having a strict “right to vote” given by the law, the multiple events of suppression combined together work to deny citizenship, regardless of malicious activity. Someone not voting does not deny themselves their own citizenship; not voting is a gesture in itself, they were not misled by the system they were supposed to be included in. When someone is deliberately excluded, or deliberately denied the exercising of their right, then their citizenship is at risk as they are receiving pushback from those who are more “in the system” and are thus being excluded from the voting process. This presents a complex issue for Shklar’s citizenship, as there are times where current citizens attempt to prevent potential citizens from voting specifically to influence elections and outcomes. Potentially, an element of infighting has to be added to the group of citizens, or even pushback from the citizens themselves. One has to wonder, however, that even if someone is denied their ability to exercise their right to vote, whether or not they are as much a citizen for contributing (or attempting to do so) more than the idle citizens that are within the in-group.
We have seen major claims of voter suppression in our most recent primaries, but one can only imagine what will happen as the election approaches its climax with the general election, and how this influences citizenship in the United States of America.