Miller Center

Riding The Tiger

“I discovered that being a President is like riding a tiger. A man has to keep on riding or be swallowed.” Harry S. Truman

Pulling the Curtain: Voting in America

Voters cast their ballot.

Voting rights. Photo courtesy of BackStory. PD.

Did Tuesday’s election revive questions about America’s voting system, voter turnout, and how they have changed over time? This week’s episode of BackStory with the American History Guys provides an interesting election debrief—delving deeper into questions that would otherwise be forgotten until 2016. “Pulling the Curtain: Voting in America” addresses questions about the Electoral College, voter fraud, undecided voters, election reform, and volunteerism—which paint a picture of the political atmosphere in various periods of American history.

The American History Guys (a.k.a. Peter Onuf, Ed Ayers and the Miller Center’s own Brian Balogh), and their guests, Alexander Keyssar, Mark Summers, and Jamie Raskin, start out their Election Day special with a look at a very different kind of political climate: one where politics was a loud, public affair in which “pass[ing] out the booze” was as important giving a Stump speech.

Recent Voter ID laws look particularly exceptional in the context of the history of non-citizen voting, as explained by Raskin, a Professor of Law at American University. According to Raskin, there is an “incredible buried history of white, male, property-owning, non-citizens voting. The supporting argument is a logical one: these non-citizens have a stake in society (especially at the local level), and voting is a mutually beneficial avenue toward assimilation. The practice continued up until World War I—when states began passing laws against alien suffrage.