Our Right to Vote is Under Attack
(This article appears in the September/October 2014 issue of The American Postal Worker magazine.)
In recent years, our right to vote has come under attack all across the country. Dozens of states are advancing voter suppression laws in an effort to influence the outcome of elections.
The democratic process of the United States is based on free elections. America holds it up as a model for the world. For more than two centuries, our country has consistently expanded the ability of its citizens to vote.
Amendments to the United States Constitution formally have given adult citizens the right to vote regardless of race, color, previous condition of servitude, gender or age. The adoption of the 24th Amendment outlawed poll taxes, which were historically used to disenfranchise poor and minority voters. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 eradicated “Jim Crow” voting laws by explicitly banning any “test or device” to qualify voters on the basis of literacy, education or fluency in English.
But right-wing politicians want to turn back time. They are fabricating excuses to enact laws to disenfranchise targeted groups of legitimate voters to win elections. They claim voter fraud to justify destructive policies when in reality voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.
Since 2011, at least 355 bills have been introduced or passed in 49 states that create barriers for voter registration; shorten early voting periods, and impose new requirements on registered voters who are likely to vote against the GOP. No matter the title or the justification, all are unmistakably voter suppression.
Voter suppression is being delivered in many forms. The elimination of Sunday voting prevents black churches from busing their parishioners to the polls after services. Rejecting public university photo IDs marginalizes young voters. Reducing polling places in Hispanic neighborhoods makes voting more difficult. Demanding drivers’ licenses disenfranchises seniors and people with disabilities who don’t drive. Eliminating same-day registration stymies late registrants who are more likely to be “liberal” voters. All of these restrictions trespass on our civil rights.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, “New voting restrictions developed since 2010 are slated to be in place in 22 states this November. Currently, “eligible voters in nearly half the country could find it harder to cast a ballot in the 2014 midterm elections.”
Voter suppression is an infringement on a citizen’s right to vote. It is an obvious affront to the democratic system and values of America. Democracy is defined as supreme power being exercised by the people, and in our case that power is principally through voting. Any constraint on our right or ability to vote weakens our democracy.
Apparently five of the Supreme Court Justices didn’t get that memo, because they voted in June to strike down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, the “crown jewel” of the Civil Rights movement and one of the most important pieces of legislation in U.S. history. Section 4 ensured that voting equality was preserved throughout the country.
Legislators and the people appointed to safeguard justice should be modernizing our democracy to ensure all citizens have access to a ballot, not invoking and destroying laws that impede voting rights in a manner that has not been seen since Reconstruction in the late 1800s.
If we want to remain a democracy, “We the People” must rise up to defend it. Our mission is clear – universal access to the vote and involving the greatest number of people in the electoral process. We must protect the rights of all citizens.