Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting In America By Erin Geiger Smith (256 pages)
President Abraham Lincoln provided a basic statement for his stance on democracy in the Gettysburg Address by honoring “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”
Voting is a fundamental means to ensure that the people will rule. Historically, there has been a continuing battle to expand the right to vote. Blacks, women, the poor, and others were for a long time blocked from voting at all, or their ability to vote was severely burdened.
But, the right to vote alone is not enough, including dealing with various barriers in place to voting. People have to want to vote, to believe it is worth their time and effort.
Also, voting to fully be valuable needs to be informed. Being informed particularly requires being an informed consumer of the news. It also requires understanding polling. Voters also need to know the effect of such things as gerrymandering and the Electoral College.
Thank You For Voting: The Maddening, Enlightening, Inspiring Truth About Voting In America covers all of these issues. It covers the expanding right to vote, how to promote voting, and educating voters themselves. The book is not comprehensive (about 200 pages) but an introduction that covers a range of topics regarding each of these subjects.
And, as perhaps suggested by the title, it does so with a gung ho sentiment that voting is important and inspiring without ignoring the problems involved in the past and present.
The goal of this book is to provide the information necessary for you to vote, to convince you of the importance of voting in every election, and to encourage you to recruit the people you’re closest with to join you.
This provides a basic summary of the book, including the author’s gung ho support of voting.
Should I Read It?
The book is a good introduction to voting in America.
It has a down to earth style that should be appreciated by both the average reader and those who might be more educated on the specific material covered. There is a “young adults” version of this book, but I think it should be appropriate for the average high school student.
Those that want in depth analysis of the various topics covered should understand that this is more of an introduction to the subject matter. Some might not be interested, for example, in the middle section on promoting voting. They might want more history or detail on how to judge the news. Other books can be sought out to do so. This book is a more brief account.
For instance, one chapter on “knowing the news is real” might lead you to want to read True or False: A CIA Analyst’s Guide to Spotting Fake News by Cindy Otis. The book itself refers to Alexander Keyssar’s historical account, The Right To Vote. Many other books can be found.
The book is pro-voting, which in some cases might clash with certain partisan positions. Those who, e.g., think the broad existence of “voter fraud” is not a myth will disagree with one section. But, the book’s overall nonpartisan approach should appeal to a range of readers as well.
Erin Geiger Smith argues that not enough people are voting. But, this is solvable with a better understanding of the process, and finding creative ways to get out the vote. This involves taking an honest look at the flaws in the voting system. And, examining what particularly is important for each individual voter. The book promotes voting, not who or what to vote for.
Part I: How We Got The Vote
Chapter One: Democracy in Name Only
It took a long time for the United States to have widespread suffrage, the right to vote. Things started with a limited number of white men having the right to vote, often with property restrictions. John Adams feared universal suffrage. The long fight for blacks, Native Americans, immigrants, and eighteen-year-olds to obtain the right to vote is discussed.
Chapter Two: Long-Suffering For Women’s Suffrage
The long fight — with “incarcerations, hunger strikes, and racism” — for women to gain the right to vote (Nineteenth Amendment) is explained.
Women (except for a short time in New Jersey) had no right to vote. A suffrage movement developed in the 19th Century. There were divisions on strategy, including racist appeals when blacks received the vote first. Women’s right to vote was obtained nationwide in 1920.
Chapter Three: Voting Problems and Voting Solutions
Our voting system is very complex with each state having their own laws as well as federal voting requirements. One issue, with Florida highlighted, is the issue of voting rights of those convicted of a felony. The Voting Rights Act of 1965, a federal law to improve voting rights is discussed, including how the Supreme Court ruling Shelby v. Holder affected its application.
Voting suppression, making it more burdensome to vote, should be constantly monitored to make sure it is not applied inappropriately. Examples of things to carefully address would be voting id, mistakenly reducing voter rolls, and the myth (she argues) of rampant voter fraud. Newer approaches to voting, including ranked choice voting and vote by mail, are covered.
Part II: How To Get People To Vote
Chapter Four: Transforming Non-Voters Into Voters
Goal: convince people voting is important, empowering, and something to do with others. How: demystify the voting process (how to register, learning about the candidates, voting itself).
Major goal here is to find creative ways to attract young voters and “underserved” potential voters including low income Americans. Various techniques to do this are explored.
Chapter Five: Making Voting Their Business
This chapter provides ways to obtain employers’ help in promoting voting.
Chapter Six: Thank You For Voting
This chapter provides means to encourage voting, including by showing voters they are appreciated. The value of “I voted” stickers, mailers to encourage voting, and making voting a fun group event are examined. Some voting language terms like “ballot” are explained.
Part III: Know Before You Vote
Chapter Seven: Gerrymandering: Over the Line?
Gerrymandering is drawing electoral districts to benefit a party (partisan) or class (mainly racial). The Supreme Court recently held that it will keep a “hands off” stance on partisan gerrymandering though it strongly split the justices. Racial gerrymandering is illegal though race can be taken into consideration to help promote minority involvement in voting.
The Supreme Court’s hands off stance regarding partisan gerrymandering still leaves open state action and congressional legislation. How much gerrymandering matters and is legitimate is disputed. “Decide where you stand, and vote.”
Chapter Eight: Knowing The News Is Real
The goal of the chapter is to help the voter to access news and information to make informed voting decisions. First: find out what is on the ballot for that election.
The role of the free press to promote democracy is examined. Judging a good news story is covered. It is important to have diverse sources of news and information. This includes the League of Women Voters’ VOTE411 website, Ballotpedia, researching websites* on issues, and well-informed friends and colleagues. It is very important to be an educated voter.
* This website is not cited, but maybe it will be in the next edition.
Chapter Nine: Understanding Polling
The importance and specifics of polling are examined. The surprising presidential result in 2016, given polling that seemed to predict that Clinton was a lock, is discussed. Reliance on polls requires examining such things as margin of error, how the poll is worded, and carried out (landlines in today’s world can be non-representative). Polls are a “crude and blunt” instrument in various ways, but they remain an important means to get a sense of what the public believes.
Chapter Ten: Explaining the Electoral College
This chapter explains the electoral college, the method used to specifically elect the president of the United States. Why we have it, how it works, key historical moments (1800, 1876, etc.), and proposals to reform/end it are discussed. The chapter (and book) ends with a statement on the importance of voting, even if the electoral vote seems to make your vote pointless.
Thank You Voting: A Checklist
Steps you can take to be able to vote, steps to be a confident and informed voter, and encouraging others to vote. From registration to preparation to voting itself.
Thank You Voting: Tell Your Friends
A way to promote voting by tagging others online and encouraging them to vote.
Points to Ponder
Smith at one point speaks of “voter’s illusion.” One vote, including yours, is of limited importance. She still argues we must think our vote matters, in part by our actions encouraging others, which affects others, and so on. This is on some level a leap of faith, but an important one, one that “keeps our democracy alive.” (And, get us a “I voted” sticker!)
Is this a realistic approach or an example of the personal sentiments of people like the author? How do we make our vote matter? Or, are cynics more correct than she might wish to accept, underlining the problems of our current system? How does the book address these things?
This book is a useful book to read before you vote, including for those who are voting for the first time. If you did read it and vote afterwards, how did it benefit the experience?
About the Author
Erin Geiger Smith is a law school graduate, and was a practicing lawyer, but decided journalism was more to her liking. She has worked at Reuters, has written for Wall St. Journal and the New York Times among other publications. She has written on a diverse number of issues, including legal news, voting issues (of course), and things like fashion and fitness matters.
This is her only book so far; she has also written a “young readers” edition.
The author is not an expert in the field of voting history but has done her research with extensive endnotes proving it. Her legal and journalist training helps with her research, discussion of current events, and discussion of legal matters.
And, other than being very pro-vote, she handles things in a non-partisan fashion.
For those who want an introduction to the subject of voting in America, this is recommended.
By Joe Cocurullo