The US presidential election of 2020 took place around exactly a year ago— how time flies by— and it was a disappointing event for many conservatives. While Donald Trump, along with millions of his supporters, cast doubts on the results even to this day, do not forget that Democrats have also been accusing Republicans of their alleged voter suppression and gerrymandering for years.
Before I start, I need to make things clear first. I am not an expert on elections, and I simply do not have the time to closely investigate accusations from both sides of the political spectrum. What interests me the most is the phenomenon that elections have become the latest battleground between the left and right, and the underlying reason in my humble opinion is beyond purely partisan interests.
Why Do We Vote at All?
When the Founding Fathers of America wrote the Constitution, they both asserted that voting is a citizen’s right and feared the creation of mobocracy where the people dominated all the national policies. They added an electoral vote system to prevent people from electing a president without being fully informed about the candidate. Indeed, the context of the 18th Century suggests that information spread extremely slowly, making federalism a popular political position. The framers, of course, were not gods; they make mistakes too and cannot anticipate the world after 200 years. But still, I believe that their insights were generally correct.
So when we compare the political structure of the US today with that during this nation’s dawn, we seem to hardly recognize it.
The Left and Right Interpret Voting Differently
We live in Austin— a politically progressive city— and we see propaganda about voting everywhere: on bus ads, on campus, in classes, in murals, etc. If I were to ask any liberal about why we should be passionate about voting, I can almost certainly anticipate their answers: we need to make our voices heard and make a change in society. They would tell me that literally, anyone should be able to vote as they all are a part of the society, instead of having the disadvantaged being suppressed. We should encourage voting and make voting a lot easier than it is now.
If I were to ask a conservative with the same question, I would get something different, most likely: the people should be able to choose what is best for their country. Keep in mind that those who are interested in politics are the few, and the whole process of voter registration and ballot casting takes a lot of effort. For those citizens who are eligible to vote, they should have holistic knowledge about the society and are willing to take responsibility for their actions; therefore as a result of democratic elections, the society’s future can be best maintained. This explains why Republicans are serious about election integrity, including ID laws, banning ballot harvesting, concerns with mass mail-in ballots, etc.
It is fair to say that the interpretations from both the left and right are to some extent correct, though I’d have to agree with the conservatives more. For people such as felons, minors, or foreign nationals, we are expected to see many of them not being well-informed about politics, but rather as, at best, single-issue voters or heavily ideology-oriented. I don’t think that their ballots will have any positive effects on society if someday they are given suffrage.
More radically, I would perhaps disagree with the Founding Fathers on this issue– voting should rather be a privilege only for those of the truly competent, like ex-military servicemen, tax-payers, or those who passed the US civics test. Since this does not discriminate based on race, gender, or cultural background (unlike the notorious literacy test targeting southern Blacks), don’t accuse me of advocating voter-suppression practices.
Last but Not Least, What Does It Tell Us about the 2020 Election?
As mentioned, the left and right disagree on the fundamental question of why should people even vote. As we have seen during last year’s presidential election, the Republicans allegedly found fraudulent events that could potentially change the election results, while the Democrats and the media denounced all of them as the “Big Lie”. I am not here to discuss whether the fraud claims by Trump were true or not, because I simply don’t know, just like no one can be sure about the accusations of Trump-Russian Collusion from the left.
Rather, we see this phenomenon as if the left and right are living in parallel worlds. This can be ascribed to the different interpretations by the two sides as explained earlier. To one side, a lot of the new practices implemented in the wake of the pandemic (to name a few, expanded early voting, mass mail-in, ballot harvesting, accepting ballots several days after the election day, etc.) are seen as empowering more disadvantaged people to vote, and should be maintained for future elections; while to the other side, they are seen as straight-up fraud and should be punished by stricter legislations.
We shall only see this debate continue to heat up in the future.