Universal suffrage reduces political violence

(ORDO NEWS) — French sociologist Jean Lacroix published a paper in which he analyzed how the expansion of voting rights affects the level of political violence in society.

The conclusions reached by the scientist, considering the impact of the US Voting Rights Act of 1965 on the level of violence, suggest that the expansion of voting rights reduces political violence.

New work by French sociologist Jean Lacroix shows that expanding voting rights can reduce political violence.

But this is an extremely difficult process, which can be accompanied by outbreaks of violence and aggravation of relations in society.

It is especially dangerous when suffrage is granted selectively and, for example, in neighboring districts the law on suffrage is interpreted differently.

The researcher discovers this when considering the impact of the US Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Political scientists have long debated the impact of enfranchisement on violence. In theory, giving a voice to a historically disenfranchised group goes a long way in reducing the likelihood of violence.

Voting gives those dissatisfied with the status quo the opportunity to express disapproval legally and elect new officials.

“Give us ballots and we will turn the crimes of bloodthirsty mobs into good deeds of decent citizens,” said Martin Luther King in his historic speech at the Lincoln Memorial in 1957.

Problems of universal suffrage

But expanding voting rights is tipping the political balance. Such changes may increase the incentives of the elite to compensate for the loss of power with political violence.

New voting rights may also resort to violence if they do not see the benefits they expected from enfranchisement.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act on August 6, 1965. It dramatically changed the political orientation of the United States, but its impact on political violence is debatable.

Political violence in the country was very severe throughout the 1960s. Americans have witnessed several high-profile assassinations (including the assassination of President John F. Kennedy) and riots that have erupted over the decade in cities such as Birmingham, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Cincinnati and Atlanta.

On the night of Martin Luther King’s assassination alone, riots took place in more than 100 US cities.

The Voting Rights Act prohibited voting discrimination, but changes under the law did not apply to all jurisdictions (states and districts) equally.

The law required affected jurisdictions to suspend any practice that restricts voter registration.

Jurisdictions were required to obtain federal government prior approval for any change in voting practice, and in many cases federal officials traveled to register disqualified voters.

More than once it turned out that counties covered by the Voting Rights Act were located next to counties that could evade its implementation.

Such difficulties are traditionally associated with the relative freedom of each state to determine its own laws and decide who can vote in elections and who can not.

For example, a typical restriction was the refusal to participate in elections for the illiterate, the poor and the prisoner (in the United States, prisoners and those released from prison can still vote in only two states (Maine and Vermont).

Still, expanding suffrage mitigates violence

The researcher compared data on political violence between counties covered and not covered by the 1965 Act.

He found that the Voting Rights Act halved both the incidence of actual political violence and the likelihood of new waves of unrest rising.

In counties covered by the Act, citizens voted to express their political views, while in counties that evaded federal law, citizens continued to use violence.

“In the current context of growing dissatisfaction with democracy, understanding the connection between voting and violence is extremely important,” says Jean Lacroix.

“Many countries still restrict access to voting. An end to such policies could encourage all citizens to vote more and rely less on violence as a political action.”


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