Vote suppression is in the news again. In August, Donald Trump, likely recognizing that he was going to lose the election, started talking about the need to prevent voter shenanigans in “certain sections” of Pennsylvania—“you know the ones,” he told them—clear code to his supporters that black people in Pennsylvania’s urban areas were plotting to steal the vote on behalf of “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.
The truth is something like the opposite. Acutely aware that it has a purchase on a dwindling minority of voters, the Republican Party has for some years used the specter of vote fraud to enact legislative measures that would require increased documentation at polling places, measures that are likely to have the effect of limiting the turnout of low-income and/or minority voters, both of which are reliable Democratic constituencies. The “voter fraud” scare is now widely seen as itself to be a voter suppression gambit, as some high-level Republicans are sometimes unwise enough to actuallly admit to in public.
The crucial importance of the vote can be seen in the centuries-long struggles over who gets to vote and who does not. In a sense, artificial or scarcely justified limits on the franchise are as American as apple pie, as Your Vote, a 1991 program for The Learning Channel hosted by none other than Frank Zappa, explains.
Frank Zappa was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1990, after the disease had progressed unnoticed for roughly a decade. Obviously, as he neared his untimely death, which eventually occurred in December 1993, Zappa’s illness restricted his ability to travel or undertake arduous projects. Zappa is hardly the vigorous figure here that he had once been, but his commitment to the cause of participatory democracy was such that he did the project anyway.
The show begins with footage of George Herbert Walker Bush and Michael Dukakis, the Republican and Democratic presidential nominees for the most recent national election in 1988. It would be easy to frame the story of franchisement in the United States as an optimistic one, with the vote being granted to ever more groups, but that is not the tone adopted here. In this program, the emphasis is squarely on the unjustifiable shenanigans that prevent people from exercising one of the most basic human rights.
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