Voting is one of the most basic and strongest forms of self-expression available to every man and women in this day and age. It allows people to lend their voice to a cause, social movement or the election of their country’s next leader. It is a right that has been fought for and bled over, peacefully protested yet also used as a tool for oppression and suppression. Being that it is the 21st century, one would expect that we would be well past voter politics. Yet in the past decade the right to vote has been sacrificed for partisan play. What’s the expression? “It has to get first before it gets better.” Just as politics have become more divisive and partisan, ugly voter intimidations and deceptive practices reminiscent of the past have taken center stage at the local and state level. People in positions of power or groups who so vehemently refuse to consider another side’s point of view have been able to take advantage of out-of-date voting and registration systems to disenfranchise millions of eligible voters.
Often these types of practices take the form of misleading flyers, robocalls or mass emails giving misinformation about dates, places, and times for voting or that a person’s vote is “no longer needed”. Others include indirect threats stating that voters will be arrested if they show up to voting stations with unpaid child support or parking infractions – a tactic specifically aimed at the low-income and minority voting communities. Then there are the supposed voter fraud fixes, such as the voter purges, that have been cropping up in battleground states that do nothing to address the fabricated claim of voter fraud and usually target eligible voters of a certain group.
Many of the tactics above rely on the fact that the ability to register is widely different from state to state, as well as cumbersome and costly. Each election cycle one party or another pushes new voter registration requirements and policies that add identity restrictions and try to limit early and ballot voting. Traditionally these tactics have targeted one or more underrepresented groups, including first-time voters, non-college youth, new citizens, minorities, the elderly and low-income communities. It’s no wonder that even though 77% of the population was of voting age in the last midterms elections (2014) only 33% of that group actually voted.
Every citizen deserves a voting system that is not only free from intimidation but has uniform requirements across the country and is easily accessible. It should be the responsibility of our elected leaders to make voting more accessible through laws that encourage voter registration and access to information instead of ones that try to restrict and impede voters from being active participants in our political society. While online voting has successfully been implemented across half the states, recognizing that America is no longer a static society but one increasingly mobile and technically dependent, the requirements still vary state to state and the onus to register is placed squarely on the shoulders of its citizens.
Instead, we should be pushing for automatic voter registration. Last week California (CA) Governor Jerry Brown signed the New Motor Voter Act into law, which would automatically register all eligible citizens to vote whenever they interacted with the DMV. This is only the second such law following Oregon’s successful push for its first-of-its-kind law earlier this year. Both encapsulate what it means to be a democracy.
As CA Secretary of State Alex Padilla put it, “Citizens should not be required to opt into their fundamental right to vote. We do not have to opt into other rights such as free speech or due process.” The message is clear, voting is a right that’s must be unequivocally protected and advocated for by the U.S. government to make sure every eligible citizen is able to make their voice is heard. By increasing voter turnout and demonstrating to its citizens that yes, every vote does matter, than we may actually see a higher voter turnout that is much more representative of America instead of a few polarizing groups. This would bring us a lot closer to our democratic ideal by stripping away at the status quo and select donor class; and ensuring that elected officials remain responsive and act on every issue that matters and not just the ones with money-lined pockets.