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Gatekeepers to the Franchise: Shaping Election Administration in New York
by Ron Hayduk
Publisher: Northern Illinois University Press 2005
Category: Non-fiction19th century20th centuryPolitics
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The history of democracy in America is the history of the extension of voting privileges from white male property-owners to blacks, to women, and to citizens over eighteen years of age. Yet the number of United States citizens who actually vote is distressingly low in comparison with voter turnout in other democratic nations. Barely half of the eligible electorate vote in presidential elections, and even fewer cast ballots in state and local elections. Poor, minority, and urban communities report the lowest turnout rates, calling into question the reality of American democracy. Who or what is to blame? Among the many suspects, from stealthy politicians to indifferent citizens, the system of election administration often goes unrecognized. In fact, public officials charged with registering voters and operating the polls on election day literally act as the “gatekeepers to the franchise.” By blocking or facilitating a citizen’s ability to vote, they shape democratic participation. In this timely study, political scientist Ronald Hayduk assesses the impact that electoral rules, registration procedures, and on-the-ground operations of New York’s state and city election boards have had upon voters’ participation and election outcomes over the past 130 years. This in-depth case study documents the ways in which certain practices not only disenfranchise eligible individuals but disproportionately affect low-income and minority groups. It also provides alarming evidence that the debacle in Florida during the 2000 presidential election was not unique. Partisanship and the corruption it fosters have been built into the American system of election administration. At the same time, however, Hayduk argues that expansive election practices and efficient administration do encourage registration and voting. Bringing his research up through the 2004 presidential election, he evaluates the reforms instituted by the Help America Vote Act. In the conclusion, he offers a candid discussion of other proposed measures for ensuring that all citizens can exercise their right to vote.

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