This is the first of five articles by Professor Brian Glassman on the 2020 General Election. This week’s theme is “Representation: Advocating for Environmental Protection Through the Electoral Process.”
You can read more about Professor Glassman below.
A more robust democracy strengthens environmental protection.
Such a straightforward and compelling principle, but what does it really mean, and how can it best be put into practice? In a series of pieces leading up to the general election on November 3rd, 2020, I will try to answer those questions by examining political representation, elections in general, and voting this November during the coronavirus pandemic. If my remarks / comments spark additional questions, please let me know, and I will try to answer those, too.
Representation: Advocating for Environmental Protection Through the Electoral Process
Ours is a representative democracy. Rather than voting directly on every matter, we elect representatives, whose duty it is to carry out ‘the will of the people.’ Thus, our voice is our vote: we seek to elect those who will craft and implement policies that best serve society, and vote out of office those who fail in their duties as public servants. Laws that protect the environment—the air we breathe and the water we drink–are a prime example of such policies.
In our system of government, more robust voter participation fosters a more robust democracy. We want our representatives to learn about the interests of all Georgians, so that they can weigh competing interests in making the best possible policy choices.
As Georgians give political expression to their views by voting, every effort must be made to remove impediments to voting. Rules and procedures designed to ensure that only eligible persons vote, and that votes are accurately counted? Yes. But rules and procedures that have no apparent purpose other than to make it harder to vote? No. Democracy is at risk when would-be voters conclude that there are so many impediments to voting—numerous and complicated voter registration steps, long lines at the polls, etc.—that it’s just not worth the time and effort to do so. In that case, we all lose, because our democracy is that much less representative.
Georgians who vote are an integral part of our system of government, part of the well-calibrated system of checks and balances (executive branch—legislative branch—judicial branch—electorate), created at our nation’s founding, for ensuring thoughtful policymaking. Words used frequently today—“transparency” and “accountability”—were essential considerations in creating the form of government we have enjoyed for over 230 years.
Georgians’ right to vote for those who will represent us extends to almost every branch of government, both state and federal. As to the former, we elect our state legislators, officials of the executive branch, and judges. As to the latter, we elect our federal legislators, as well as the President of the United States. Thus, we can make a positive difference in our state and our country through the votes we cast.
Our democracy is only truly “representative” if voters participate. And whether or not intentional, measures that make the act of voting more complex, time-consuming, etc. impede voter participation.
Historically, voter participation rates in the United States are low compared to those in other highly developed, democratic states. For example, in 2018 the Pew Research Center reported that the 55.7% voting-age population turnout in the 2016 election resulted in the U.S. placing 26th out of 32 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, when researchers examined the most recent nationwide election in each OECD nation (the top three countries had voter participation rates of 80%-87%).
There are likely multiple reasons for this, but the focus should be on reducing barriers to voting, now and in the future. We must, and can do better, to ensure a vibrant democracy. The conduct of elections should be a non-partisan issue; everyone benefits when voter participation rates increase. Voting is the most fundamental way that we, as citizens, can help shape the policies protecting our environment.
Because I am a law professor, my students are of voting age. Every time election season comes around, I implore them to exercise this fundamental right—and responsibility. As I tell them, “I don’t care how you vote. I care that you vote.”
Professor, Cleveland-Marshall College of Law
Brian Glassman taught full time for 27 years at the Cleveland-Marshall College of Law before transitioning to part-time professor this year. He conceived of, organized, and moderated a conference, “Election Integrity in a Time of Political Polarization: Gerrymandering, Redistricting Commissions, and the 2020 Census Citizenship Question,” hosted by Cleveland-Marshall in October 2019. He also spoke at the Law Dean’s virtual Town Hall on “Elections, Coronavirus, and the 2020 Census” in April 2020. Currently, he is working on voting rights issues for organizations committed to free and fair elections. On September 24, 2020, he will be co-presenting with Allegra Lawrence-Hardy, Esq., legal counsel for the voting rights organization Fair Fight Action, at a Cleveland-Marshall virtual event titled “Racial Discrimination in Voting.”
Prof. Glassman received his B.A. from Connecticut College, and his J.D. from the Boston University School of Law.