Voting rights: ‘Capitalist charity’ vs workers’ democracy

October 7, 2020

During this U.S. election season, many people are still fighting to get access to the universal bourgeois right to vote, supposedly a cornerstone of capitalist “democracy.”

It’s been an uphill struggle since 1776 when only propertied white men who were Protestants could legally vote. Everyone else was denied — Catholics, Quakers, Jews, members of Native nations, Asians, Black people, whether enslaved or free, women, married or not, and poor white men.

There have been historic wins over the centuries — and setbacks. In the 1860s and 1870s, many states began to deny the vote to people convicted of felonies, a move tied to denying this right to Black people who were newly freed from enslavement.

But in 2018 in Florida, more than one million people with felony records, disproportionately Black and Brown individuals, had their right to vote restored after 64% of the voters — the majority white — passed an amendment to the state’s Constitution.

Then reactionaries set to work. The Republican-controlled Florida Legislature, spurred on by Gov. Ron DeSantis, imposed “fees” and “fines” on formerly imprisoned individuals as requirements to regain the vote. The 11th U.S. Circuit  Court of Appeals upheld the law.

So it must have seemed like magnificent generosity when billionaire Democrat Michael Bloomberg raised $16 million to pay fines, fees and restitution for about 31,000 Florida residents with felony records, to restore their voting rights before the 2020 general election. (

What a charitable gift! Not.

Bloomberg actually coordinated contributions for only 3% of the one million people denied the vote. He could have enfranchised them all. According to Forbes magazine’s “Richest on Earth” 2020 list, Bloomberg himself is worth $54.9 billion, from owning information systems used by stock market traders to analyze data and pull in massive wealth.

How much is one billion? If a million were measured in seconds, it would be equivalent to 11.6 days. A billion seconds is equal to 31.7 years.

Think about the capitalist charity that Bloomberg tossed out as a few seconds in the number of years those Florida “felons” were imprisoned and working for slave wages. His “contribution” was worth a few days of the years of labor time it took workers of all genders, nationalities, ages and abilities to generate the profits that made him a super-billionaire.

Democrat Bloomberg handed out capitalist charity to a few people. The Republican approach is a bare-fisted attack to disenfranchise the many — from gutting the 1965 Voting Rights Act protecting Black voters, imposing voter-id laws, closing polling places, attacking mail-in ballots, to dog-whistling for white supremacist vigilantes to join “the Army for Trump’s election security operation” to threaten voters at predominantly Black precincts.

Fortunately, like the fight back led by formerly enslaved people against the “White Terror” of the 1870s Reconstruction era, people are organizing to defend the polls and access to the right to vote. A coalition of progressive organizations has mobilized over 6,000 “election defenders.” (See box on this page for more information.)

What a contrast Cuba’s socialist workers’ democracy provides to the almost 250 years of unrelenting voter denial and suppression in the U.S.!

Under its national constitution, Cuba is a socialist democracy in which the National Assembly of People’s Power (Asamblea Nacional del Poder Popular) is its parliament and supreme body of state power. Of its 600-plus deputies, half are nominated at public meetings of municipalities. During regular elections, from 70% to over 90% of the electorate attend the nomination assemblies.

To ensure representation of all the people, half the deputies are nominated by mass organizations, such as trade unions, women’s groups, farmers’ cooperatives, student federations and people’s councils. No political parties, including the Communist Party of Cuba, are permitted to campaign!

Voting age is 16 for Cuban citizens who have resided on the island for at least two years.

In the 2016 U.S. presidential election, 46% of the electorate voted.  But who knows how many voters were disenfranchised under the capitalist system?

In Cuba’s parliamentary elections in 2018, 85% of the electorate voted.

That is what voting rights look like in a workers’ democracy, in a revolutionary grassroots democracy.