Limiting Voting Rights

Braxton Acres was a planned development created in the 1980’s when middle class families were becoming more prosperous. The homes in the development were very nice, but had grown dated in the 40+ years since they were constructed.

As the original home owners were moving into retirement homes or passing away, wealthy professionals in the community were buying up the homes. Typically they would acquire two adjoining properties, tear down both houses, and build a very luxurious home. Over one-third of the original homes had been torn down.

As expected, conflicts developed between the original home owners and the newer mansion owners. The original home owners were primarily working class who were heirs to the original builders or those who had purchased the homes from the original builders. The working class home owners were resistant to selling their homes to those who wanted to tear them down and convert the homes into mansions. They were able to resist changes wanted by the mansion owners because they still had majority votes in the Braxton Acres Home Owner’s Association. But that was about to change.

The mansion owners had enough votes to call for a special meeting of the Association. They set the time for the meeting at a time when the working class home owners could not meet. During the meeting, they proposed a series of bylaw changes including:

  • Votes were allotted by acreage in the development. Thus most mansion owners had at least two votes.
  • Absentee voting was not allowed.
  • Proxy voting was not permitted.
  • The annual Association maintenance fee was doubled to provide a more exclusive looking development.

The bylaw changes were described as an effort to make the Association more democratic. In reality, they had the opposite effect. Participation in Association meetings and decisions by those who lived in the original homes declined dramatically. This was due in large part to barriers that the new bylaws had on the ability to participate.

Those in privileged positions have the resources to manipulate democracy not by changing the votes of the population, but by creating processes that limit the ability to vote. They can do this by creating false narratives using such words as integrity, inclusiveness, and opportunity. Exclusion conspiracies are easy to sell while inclusion conspiracies play on fears and prejudice.

Just imagine why it took 129 years for women to gain the right to vote in the U.S. or why it took 1 year and 75 days for states to ratify the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote. Throughout our history, we have constructed noble sounding rationales for excluding specific classes of individuals from voting. Those with the resources to foster exclusion may be the greatest threat to our democracy.

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“This process of election affords a moral certainty that the office of President will seldom fall to the lot of any many who is not in an eminent degree endowed with the requisite qualifications.”– Alexander Hamilton

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