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Omdahl: Democracy a victim of partisan politics

Omdahl writes, "Election fraud is a disguise for our bigotry, but every legislator knows what the goal of restrictive legislation is all about. Let’s quit lying to ourselves about the legitimacy of laws intentionally limiting the vote."

Lloyd Omdahl
Lloyd Omdahl
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Some of America recently observed the heroism of one Martin Luther King, who was murdered because he thought that “We, the people” should include more than white European immigrants. While some celebrated, others did not, doing their best to see that Black lives did not matter.

In 2021, 19 states passed 34 laws aimed at excluding minorities from participating in elections. This is not about election fraud. It is about denying citizens their right to vote.

Election fraud is a disguise for our bigotry, but every legislator knows what the goal of restrictive legislation is all about. Let’s quit lying to ourselves about the legitimacy of laws intentionally limiting the vote.

In 1776, the Declaration of Independence declared that “all men are created equal” without specifying who was included among the “equal” men. At that time, only 5-10% of the men were permitted to vote and only then when they had a property stake in society.

Eleven years later, the Founding Fathers proclaimed in the U. S. Constitution that “we, the people” were establishing this new republic. To be transparent, they should have said “we 5-10% of the people create this government.”

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But the democratic impulse blossomed early in our history, first with the states giving citizens the power to choose the electors for the Electoral College by popular vote rather than a select group of leaders.

Next, the property requirements for voting became obsolete with the radically changing society.

When the Civil War ended, northerners saw political advantage to extending the right to vote to former slaves in the 15th Amendment. Congress required that the states of the rebellion ratify the amendment as a price for readmission back into the Union.

When President Hayes made a deal to withdraw the U.S. Army from the South, the slaveholding society regained control of elections in the South and administered the 15th Amendment to death with literacy tests, intimidation (KKK) and a slew of oppressive measures.

In 1848, Elizabeth Stanton called a women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, to demand the right to vote for women. It took 80 years before the democratic dream of equality at the polls for women became a reality with the passage of the 19th Amendment in 1920.

With the ratification of the 17th Amendment in 1913, people in all states were given the right to vote for U. S. Senators.

In 1924, Congress passed the Snyder Act that expanded the vote to Native Americans. At last, they had the right to vote in their own country.

Finally, the 26th Amendment was ratified in 1971, lowering the voting age to 18.

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Democracy in America has marched through the decades. Over the last two centuries, we have recognized the equality of men and women of all origins and colors, transforming the original aristocracy into a true democracy.

But all is not well. The right to vote has fallen into the crosshairs of the most vicious political polarization since the Civil War. Our values have changed. Politics has become more important than democratic values and the future does not look very promising.

Democracy is in trouble.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Forum's editorial board nor Forum ownership.

Omdahl is a former N.D. lieutenant governor and retired University of North Dakota political science teacher. Email ndmatters@midco.net

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