Why Americans Still Don't Vote And Why Politicians Want It That Way

Author: Frances Fox Piven

One of the things I like best about the book, “Why Americans Still Don’t Vote And Why Politicians Want It That Way” is the title. Very few of the books and papers that discuss issues related to voters, voting and registration for voting are willing to call out the political parties for driving systematic inequities.

How could be? Well, the Republicans and Democrats are in the business of getting re-elected and, consistent with one of the more famous political quotes associated with Chicago politics, “the don’t want nobody that nobody sent”. So, they do not help register voters unless they know with a sufficient degree of certainty that the person being registered will vote their way and they do not attempt to get people to the polls unless they are absolutely certain that they will vote their way.

“Why Americans Still Don’t Vote And Why Politicians Want It That Way” is the sequel to “Why Americans Don’t Vote”, each written by Frances Fox Piven and Richard A. Cloward. I started reading the first book, but flipped to the sequel once I realized that it was the grown up version and more comprehensive in scope. Both books deal with the writers’ preoccupation with the historic disenfranchisement of citizens who are traditionally less privileged and their work to balance the system.

Although I do not agree with many of their conclusions, the book does a very good job of providing historical perspective on the history of voting in America over the century running from the 1890s through the 1990s. Within that period there were massive swings in both registration and voting and anyone trying to understand the modern dynamic needs that perspective.

The writers were also activists driving political solutions during concluding decades of the 20th century and a significant portion of the book documents their efforts to change laws in order promote greater voter registration. These efforts led culminated with passage of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993. Whether or not the reader agrees with their theories, their efforts are fascinating and commendable. To that end, the book also becomes a valuable primer regarding how to work to change the political system.

Unfortunately, anyone looking for definitive answers to the title question is left scratching their head. That is not necessarily the fault of the authors, but rather the realization that our country’s insufficient levels of voter registration and voting defy a one-stop-shopping answer and the further realization that significant change requires a daunting, comprehensive, long term solution.

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