To the Editor:
Democracy is defined in Wikipedia as “a form of government in which all eligible citizens have an equal say in the decisions that affect their lives. Democracy allows people to participate equally – either directly or through elected representatives – in the proposal, development, and creation of laws.” In our representative democracy, then, each elected representative is obligated to consider equally the views of all constituents when deciding what programs to pursue and how to vote.
One essential factor to get representatives to do that is the right of every citizen to one equal vote to put that representative in or out. But voting alone is not enough to guarantee equal consideration of everyone’s views in the day-to-day operation of government. Throughout our history it was recognized that wealthier individuals and organizations could secure significantly greater consideration of their views in the enactment of laws by: 1) funding the campaigns of elected representatives and receiving favors in return, 2) hiring lobbyists to pursue their agendas and 3) influencing the voting of others through paid advertising.
Today, our democracy is threatened from both ends of this spectrum. Regarding voting, we have not seen since post-Civil War days such a large array of state proposals that would have the effect of restricting voting. More than 180 such voting requirement bills were introduced since the beginning of 2011 in 41 states, and 16 states passed such laws. Some of the requirements proposed seem unnecessary. Others, such as a photo ID, may not be unreasonable, but should be put in place carefully, over time, not abruptly right before a major election so as to disenfranchise voters. This was exactly the concern raised by the Pennsylvania judge who rejected implementation of its new voter ID law for this election.
On disparate influence among citizens, the recent Supreme Court “Citizens United” decision swept away decades of restrictions and found that corporations and the affluent have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited (and unreported) amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections. Recent polls have demonstrated widespread citizen opposition to this ruling, regardless of political affiliation.
Just recently, the New Jersey Senate passed Resolution 47 that calls on Congress to overturn the Citizens United decision with a constitutional amendment. The sister resolution in the New Jersey Assembly (AR86) comes up for a floor vote soon. New Jersey could become the eighth state to go on record calling for this.
These are problems that impact all of us. We urge all citizens on LBI, regardless of political party affiliation, to contact their state assemblyperson in support of this resolution, and to oppose unnecessary and abrupt changes in voter participation requirements wherever that occurs.
Bob Stern, vice president
Democratic Club of LBI