By Joe Miller, The Century Foundation
Americans have it pretty good. We’re the third-richest nation on the planet. Scholars debate whether we’re a hyperpower (à la Rome in its heyday), or “merely” the world’s only superpower. We enjoy a level of personal freedom that is the envy of the world.
In fact, we have so much money and wield so much influence in the world that we spend millions of dollars each year to export our freedoms to those who weren’t fortunate enough to be born in the U.S.A.
Sadly, though, while we’re spending money protecting freedoms abroad, we’re slowly frittering them away back home.
Take voting rights, for example.
In fiscal year 2013, the U.S. will spend about $118 million funding a program called the National Endowment for Democracy, an organization “dedicated to the growth and strengthening of democratic institutions around the world.” Another $115 million will go to USAID’s Democracy Fund, which supports free and fair elections around the world. According to USAID, free elections have 10 necessary elements:
1. Impartial electoral frameworks
2. Credible electoral administration
3. Effective oversight of electoral processes
4. Informed and active citizens
5. Representative and competitive multi-party systems
6. Effective governance by elected leaders and bodies
7. Inclusion of women and disadvantaged groups
8. Effective transfer of political power
9. Consensus-building for democratic reform
10. Sustainable local engagement
Notice that 7th one? The one about the inclusion of disadvantaged groups?
We have some of those here in the U.S., too. They include pretty much everyone without white skin. And for a very long time, people without white skin were systematically disenfranchised throughout the South. So a generation or so ago, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act to make sure that elections in those same Southern states actually included disadvantaged groups.
And guess what? It turns out that people in the very states targeted by the Voting Rights Act are still more racist than their counterparts in other states.
So of course, earlier today, the Supreme Court of the United States invalidated the part of the Voting Rights Act that required federal approval of changes to voting requirements for the very states that lead the Most Racist Citizenry rankings.
Perhaps next year USAID can kick some of those funds for supporting free and fair elections down toward Mississippi. They’ll no doubt be needed.