In a little over four months, we will go to the polls, again. Most of us, will be able to cast our ballots. Well, hopefully. Unfortunately, some of us may face obstacles.
Since the 2010 rescission of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, casting ballots has become more of a challenge for many voters.
The 1965 Act, signed by President Lyndon Johnson, aimed to ensure that all eligible voters could actually vote. “Jim Crow” laws, which had been enforce since 1890, had successfully codified severe restrictions on African Americans, including suppressing their right to vote.
Restricting any groups’ vote undermines our nation’s form of government.
In the 1960s, when I was in my teens and 20s, I presumed that the issue of voter suppression was on its way to becoming a defunct topic. Such blind, youthful optimism!
Regrettably, we are still faced with efforts to obstruct voters’ rights. Opposing parties, in their attempts to attain or retain office for their candidates, appear willing to stoop to egregious acts.
The Center for American Progress in a Nov. 20, 2018 report noted that, “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2016, approximately 1 in 7 American citizens who were of voting age self-reported that they were not registered to vote. Between figuring out where and when to register, as well as what materials—including proof of residency—are needed, the process of registering to vote can be confusing and overly burdensome.”
When states or counties in states make the voting process cumbersome, it is surprising only 1 in 7 voters fails to register. And, those who do register and who are purged from the voters rolls must wonder why bother?
“Since 2012, former Georgia Secretary of State and Gov.-elect Brian Kemp (R) purged an estimated 1.5 million people from the state voter rolls, 107,000 of whom were removed for not having voted in the two previous general elections. These purges disproportionately affected African Americans, whose voter registrations were removed at a rate that was 1.25 times higher than for white Americans in some counties.” --The Center for American Progress, Nov. 20, 2018.
Plus, It is hardly a coincidence, that since 2013, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Voting Rights Act, incidents of mostly Southern states closing polling places have increased. By the November 2018 midterms, at least 868 voting sites were closed. If the Voting Rights Act was still enforce, the Department of Justice could have prohibited the closures. Obviously, eliminating polling places means voters in those areas must travel greater distances and once there must wait in longer lines. In our fast paced world, it can be difficult to spare the time needed to even go to the polls.
Also, voter ID is an issue, particularly in states that are insisting that the voters’ registration forms and their IDs must match perfectly, letter for letter, otherwise their ballots will be tossed into the questionable pile — probably to be ignored, not counted.
These are just a few examples of the issues plaguing our electoral system. And, this does not even consider the potential of foreign interference in the process.
Fortunately, some members of our current Congress are attempting to tackle the problem with the proposal of House Bill 1. On Jan 3, Rep. John Sarbanes, MD-D., introduced the bill.
On Jan. 29, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell predicted that the Senate will not pass the bill. Then, McConnell characterized the bill as, the “Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
It is distressing that leaders, of either party, would object to ensuring that all eligible voters can actually vote. Granted, party loyalty has its benefits to society, but trying to disenfranchise voters is not, in anyway, beneficial. In fact, stripping voters of their rights is detrimental to the validity of our elections and to our way of life.
In a letter dated March 4, the Brennan Center for Justice urged members of Congress to: “...vote for H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2019, and against any last-minute effort to weaken the bill.
“H.R. 1 is historic legislation. It is the first time in decades Congress has made revitalizing our democracy a top legislative priority. It is also long overdue. For years, public trust has declined as longstanding problems with our democratic system have festered. In the 2018 midterms we saw the result: brazen and widespread voter suppression; super PACs and dark money groups spending more than $1 billion thanks to Citizens United; the distorting effects of extreme partisan gerrymandering; large-scale voter roll purges; and old, failing voting machines and technology that caused long lines and left elections vulnerable to foreign adversaries.”
House Bill 1, was the first action of the 2018 mid-term’s newly elected house members. They consider safeguarding voting rights crucial.
According to Brennan Center’s letter, some of the Bill’s most vital provisions include:
“Automatic Voter Registration: H.R. 1 would make automatic voter registration, which 15 states and the District of Columbia have already approved, the national standard; Small-Donor Public Financing: H.R. 1 would create a program to amplify the voice of small, private donors, using public funds to match small-dollar contributions $6-to-$1”; Reestablish the Voting Rights Act of 1965; Restore election rights to voters who have completed their prison time; Enact redistricting reform — ban partisan gerrymandering; Adopt early voting nationwide; Reform finance laws by closing “...loopholes that let anonymously-funded dark money groups spend millions each election, extend common-sense transparency rules to online political advertising, tighten rules intended to keep super PACs and dark money groups independent of candidates, and overhaul the Federal Election Commission to prevent deadlocks and enforce campaign finance laws more effectively”; Require, by 2020, that states install voting machines with paper ballot backups, in place of the electronic paperless ones; Provide grants to help states update voting machines, as well as promote more audits.
Election security is critical. Today’s technology has made tampering with elections a real concern. Readily accessible paths are open for foreign entities to surreptitiously alter election results. It becomes more imperative that we keep an eagle eye on the physical election process, as well.
Voters need to trust that our elections are legitimate.
Without that sense of trust, I fear many of us may take the why-bother approach and ignore elections, altogether.
Plus, if registering and voting are too difficult, that will only pile on more reasons to skip the polls.
In fact, it seems outrageous to me, that voting in our nation, in 2019, should be a hassle. Don’t we tout our dedication to a free democracy and to our voting rights?
Free and fair elections are a hallmark of any functioning democratic society. We need to secure voting rights for all eligible voters, not just the voters who are biased in our favor.
Please, contact your representatives and indicate your support for House Bill 1. Also, let your senators know that you expect the Senate to afford the House’s “For the People Act of 2019” a fair hearing.
For Adams County, the 13th District, contact Rep. John Joyce by writing to: Chambersburg Office, Suite B, 100 Lincoln Way East, Chambersburg, PA 17201; or call (717) 753-6344. Or go online and email Rep. Joyce. (Note: You will need your full Zip Code which includes the 4-digit extension in order to access Rep. Joyce’s email forms.)
Email Senator Pat Toomey at: https://www.toomey.senate.gov/?p=contact
Also, email Senator Bob Casey at: https://www.casey.senate.gov/contact/.