The gradual backsliding of democracy within the United States can be seen in different ways such as election day fraud, gerrymandering, and polarization. The United States has become more polarized over the last two decades, which has led to this democratic erosion that has contributed to many decisions made by politicians as well as actions that individual citizens make in this state that can have a significant impact on other people. It is extremely important for Americans to reflect on why the democracy in the United States might be failing and how to go about strengthening it.
One example of democratic backsliding seen today is election day fraud. More specifically, there is blatant election day fraud that can be seen through the action of stealing and openly stuffing ballot boxes as well intimidating/ harassing voters. People have been known to stuff ballot boxes in order to get their candidate to win, which infringes on other peoples’ rights to free and fair elections. The action of stuffing ballot boxes as well as stealing from them shows the lengths that people will go to in order to ensure that their candidate can win. This has especially been seen in recent years, which can be linked to the increase in polarization in the United States with the two main parties having such drastically different opinions and sides. Just last year in 2020, congressman, Michael Myers was “charged with conspiring with and bribing the former Judge of Elections for the 39th Ward, 36th Division, Domenick J. Demuro” (Former Congressman, 2021). This all contributes to a lack of integrity that the US elections have.
Gerrymandering is another way in which the integrity of United States elections and voting can be questioned regarding congressman redistricting lines. In the documentary “Gerrymandering” by Jeff Reichert, gerrymandering is described as “the carving up of a state into districts in a way that allows one political party to gain more clout than another” (Reichert, 2010). One individual in the document even described it as “the most effective way to manipulate an election’s outcome short of outright fraud” (Reichert, 2010). Instead of focusing on “stuffing ballot boxes” politicians focus on drawing districts (Reichert, 2010). This documentary focuses on the fact that political power is heavily based on population and bigger states with larger populations have more seats in Congress, whereas smaller states with smaller populations get less seats. This can be problematic as gerrymandering can affect anyone living in the United States because it can determine who will represent certain people for decades to come. Gerrymandering is done with the intent of influencing future elections, and it is possible that districts will be redrawn with the intentions of concentrating the opposition in a certain area so that they make up the minority. It can be inferred that gerrymandering is further fueled by polarization and differing political ideas.
Polarization in the United States is a huge topic nowadays and also a reason that many people either feel a need to walk around eggshells with other people or even get into extremely heated debates with one another. One case that was looked at for reference was a study done by Edith J. Barrett and Fay Lomax Cook that looked at the preferences of 58 members of the United States House of Representatives in regard to social welfare. This study looks at the way these members had talked about social welfare in the past and the way that they voted on this issue. Looking at cases like this can help to establish a correlation between party polarization and congressional voting patterns. This case highlights the fact that “Party affiliation is the most important variable explaining the attitudes of committee leaders, but it is far less important than other factors in explaining attitudes of members of Congress at large” (Barrett & Cook, 1991). The views that these members of congress hold are a key factor in their voting decisions, but political affiliation also plays a part. In this case, a random sample was taken of these members of Congress, and they were asked if they believed that benefits for social welfare should be increased, maintained, or decreased. The studies concluded that Democrats were more likely to vote for programs in favor of social welfare than Republicans. It can be seen how party affiliation has a strong impact on the decisions that representatives make that influence the nation.
Overall, there is significant evidence to support the fact that the United States’ democracy is backsliding and that the integrity of US elections as well as voting patterns/ attitudes have declined over time because of polarization. Polarization has led to such drastic differences in opinion and generally led to more disagreements among people in the United States. Americans have become so scared to talk to one another about politics because people are on completely different sides and many people believe that it is a question of morals. It is unfortunate that these have been the shifting patterns over the past few decades but having meaningful and open conversations with one another could help make a difference. It is important to know that at the end of the day, Americans might have more commonalities than differences that could bring them together. This is all a part of a much bigger conversation and acknowledging similarities not specifically in terms of politics could help put an end to this schism.
Barrett, E., & Cook, F. (1991). Congressional Attitudes and Voting Behavior: An Examination of Support for Social Welfare. Legislative Studies Quarterly, 16(3), 375-392. Retrieved March 16, 2021, from http://www.jstor.org/stable/440103
Former congressman charged with ballot stuffing, bribery, and obstruction. The United States Department of Justice. (2021, August 9). Retrieved December 1, 2021, from https://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/former-congressman-charged-ballot-stuffing-bribery-and-obstruction.
Gerrymandering Movie, LLC. (2010). Gerrymandering.
Hey Gabby! I agree that democracy is, in fact, beginning to erode in the United States. I think that polarization might be the main factor in contributing to such polarization, as it is what fuels other political tactics to be employed, such as gerrymandering and ballot stuffing, as you have mentioned. From my point of view, polarization only appears to be getting worse, and we need to do something about it before we reach a point where we are so divided that there is no coming back. It is time to start thinking of solutions. As of now, elections in the United States are not at all about the actual political beliefs that citizens hold — it’s about bolstering the prosperity of a specific political party. You call a lot of attention to gerrymandering, which I think is crucial to highlight. Gerrymandering is a tactic that is relatively subtle to the point that it is often not thought of as a factor of democratic erosion. As you stated, it doesn’t only impact people for one election, but for the ones to come and people are always subject to redistricting. Polarization is having such a disastrous effect on society that tactics such as this one appear to be an accustomed method of political gain to meet the continuing norm of polarization. However, political parties are growing too different from one another and we need to decrease polarization in order to prevent these tactics from being used. We need to learn to respect and relate to another’s beliefs rather than instantly pit ourselves against them; we need to work on finding commonalities. Some people have a set of views that don’t completely align with either side of the political arena and many are forced to choose a side that is so different from the other. Instead of using tactics of divisiveness, we need to focus on using tactics of unity.