Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Franchise in Foreclosure

By Shawn Healy
As voters across the nation calcify behind their candidates in the waning days of what has been a 23-month marathon to the White House, red flags rise in numerous locales where concerns of voter fraud and suppression surface. In presidential election years of late, we have become accustomed to such shenanigans, particularly in close contests when the decentralized nature of our election administration system reeks of antiquity, inconsistency, and amateurism. Depending upon which of the myriad of presidential polls one consults, the 2008 race may be a nail biter or a blowout, but it is wise to prepare for the former, and it appears that our country is failing on a front that many sacrificed their very lives to protect: the right to vote and citizens' very faith in democracy.

The two major political parties are both culprits in this battle over the franchise. Democrats seek to expand the pool of voters among demographics receptive to their message, namely the poor and members of racial minority groups, while challenging the absentee ballots of active members of the military stationed overseas who often affiliate with the Republican Party. Republicans counter by passing legislation that requires government-issued identification in order to vote, and charge partisan-affiliated organizations engaged in voter registration efforts with fraud. Democrats in turn label this ballot box suppression.

Both parties have legitimate gripes, but need to shed their blue and red shaded spectacles for the greater good of democracy with a small "d." Congress did pass the Help America Vote Act in 2002, in part a response to the irregularities that tainted Florida's 2000 presidential vote, but has since failed to provide promised funding to states and localities who administer elections, resulting in what some have labeled the "largest unfunded mandate in history."

For the sake of confidence in our government and its institutions, Americans of all partisan and ideological stripes must trust the legitimacy of election results. Voter fraud undermines the very premise of what this nation was founded upon and perpetrators must be duly prosecuted. Along the same lines, our country benefits from expanded political participation by our citizenry, for democracy, simply stated, means the people govern. In a democratic republic like our's, democracy is achieved through leaders we elect. We come closer to this ideal through strides toward universal participation.

The Freedom Museum sponsored an academic conference in September 2007 in partnership with the Center for the Study of the American Electorate titled "Civic Disengagement in Our Democracy." Several of the election-related phenomena specific to the administration of elections were detailed in the report that followed and is available here. I make brief mention of a handful of them below, but I am at a loss for immediate solutions, hopeful that our elected leaders have the foresight and independence to tackle the vexing problems that transcend Washington's partisan divisions and gridlock.

Our polls are run by minimally-trained amateurs, who preside over either dated equipment or new technologies that are beyond their grasp. They are underpaid and overworked, expected to spend a minimum of 14 hours at a polling location on Election Day for the sake of civic duty.

The vast majority balloting is administered by elected officials who identify with one party or the other. While most do their best to remain above the fray of partisan favoritism, is it fair to expect neutrality from party faithful who are elected themselves via the same channels?

On another level, we make it very difficult for voters to go to the polls on election day. In some states, Illinois included, voters must register one month in advance of the election. True, they have since made the process more lenient with a grace period after the deadline, but many voters fail to tune into the election until the waning days of the campaign and may thus be locked out of participating. It is no wonder that two of the states that allow on-site registration the day of the election, Minnesota and Wisconsin, lead the nation in voter turnout percentage.

Moreover, by holding elections on Tuesdays, we make it very difficult for those with familial and occupational obligations to make it to the polls during their defined hours of operation. Representative Steve Israel (D-NY) and American Enterprise Institute resident scholar Norm Ornstein make a compelling case for weekend voting in today's New York Times. Tuesday voting, they contend, is a historical anachronism and Saturday and Sunday voting is a better fit for today's fast-paced world.

Taken together, this list of lamentations will certainly not be resolved in the 11 days that remain before Election Day, and I am hopeful that they are not decisive factors in determining the outcome any any contested race. I do know that our country wins when we exercise a fundamental right now bestowed upon all adult citizens, and therefore encourage you to make your vote count on November 4th.


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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