Exclusion from Citizenship Through Voting Challenges

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 [1]. 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 [2].

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.

[1]. http://www.cnn.com/2016/04/05/politics/justice-department-investigation-arizona/index.html
[2]. http://time.com/4370479/voting-rights-problems-primary-general-election/

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3 Responses to Exclusion from Citizenship Through Voting Challenges

  1. Great post! I think there is definitely a giant hole in Shklar’s argument in regards to the pushback felt by those that do not quite cut it in terms of being considered a part of the “in-group” of citizenry. Additionally, in comparison to other democratic states, it amazes me how difficult the U.S. makes it to vote. The U.S. government is the only democratic nation through which requires their voters to register themselves to vote. Other states make it their responsibility to register and keep track of their voters, as well as provide the easiest access for them to participate on election days. The United States, on the other hand, has continued to hold Election Day on a Tuesday, which typically conflicts with peoples’ jobs and household/family duties. There has been discussion by public advocacy groups about opening up a weekend for citizens to vote; nevertheless, this notion has been shut down. What this tells me is that a lot of the pushback experienced by citizens looking to vote is also motivated by the government and those pursuing government positions. It is likely that an increased voter turn out could potentially deteriorate the boundaries that set the elitist government workers and those in favor of them apart from the “rest” of the population.

  2. morgandick says:

    I enjoyed reading your post and I completely agree that Shklar’s argument has a large hole. Citizenship can be denied if the right to work (earn) or the right to vote is denied. There are definitely many ways that these rights can be denied, whether that is a physical blockade of polling places, like we saw during the Primary Elections, or even legal blockades. I like that you brought up the recent fiasco in Maricopa County during the Presidential Primary. I want to start by saying that I recognize that the lack of polling places and the long lines that resulted were/are a legitimate issue and the outrage by voters is validated. Personal stories suggest that because of long lines many people left polling places and forfeited their ability to vote. I wonder if you would argue that under Shklar’s understanding of citizenship that individuals can forfeit their citizenship but not voting? Or can a facet of government, like Maricopa County, force people out of citizenship because they took away the ability to vote? I am not quite sure where I stand on these issues and I am curious about your opinion. Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

  3. filj says:

    SO relevant to write about the voter election issues in Maricopa county! I touched on this in my post this week as well, and I think another issue to voter suppression is those not able to afford a government issues id. It’s interesting to think if Shklar would believe groups are targeted via socioeconomic status to vote, as those who can afford to get to the polls, can afford to have a drivers license or other id, have access to a dmv etc. etc. Obviously as it was pointed out by @tanman159 in my post, different counties have different voting requirements. (As an edit to my post, if you haven’t read it yet I mentioned the recorder of elections is elected, and it appears they are appointed by the governor) But the Maricopa county recorder of elections has reported and admitted to many of her faults in the position, especially the fiasco that happened in the primaries. You can check it out here: http://www.12news.com/news/politics/sunday-square-off/helen-purcell-answers-for-year-of-election-failures/336566276

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