Protect Your Right to Vote
by Ted Miller
(originally published October 2017 in Tumbleweird)
As a democracy, we should want the voices of all citizens to be heard at the ballot box. Voting should be easy, accurate, and trusted. One citizen, one vote. It shouldn’t matter where you live, how much money you have, your religious belief, the color of your skin, the language you speak, or your political affiliation.
And yet throughout the history of this country, those in power have attempted to suppress the vote of those who would threaten their hold on that power. Suppressing the black vote has been particularly egregious since the post-Civil War passage of the 15th Amendment to the Constitution which states “[t]he right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude." Poll taxes, onerous literacy or citizenship tests, and outright intimidation were used to deny blacks the right to vote. The civil rights movement of the 1960s led to laws that helped improve equality for all Americans, including the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlawed many of the mechanisms that state and local governments had used to disenfranchise racial minorities.
Fifty years later, efforts to restrict voting rights continue. In 2013, shortly after the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, the Republican controlled North Carolina legislature enacted a bill with a host of provisions that specifically targeted African Americans, clearly aimed at suppressing their votes. The courts have since struck down much of that law, but the battle for voting rights is far from over. Similar efforts are happening in more than a dozen other states, the worst being Wisconsin and Florida. Restrictive voter ID requirements, fewer polling locations in areas with minority voters, and limitations on early voting all make it more difficult for targeted voters to exercise their right to vote.
Why is this happening? Because those in power do everything they can to stay in power. If you work to deny every citizen an equal voice, if you feel you have to suppress the vote of those who might vote against you, you don’t deserve to remain in power. Our political process has become so partisan that one party uses every means they can to maintain their dominance in government. That, to me, is un-American.
Voter suppression is counter to the idea that we are all equal, that our government is one that represents ALL citizens. If you are so afraid of a fair and open vote that you feel you have to change the rules to stay in power, you don’t believe in “one citizen, one vote.”
Election fraud is frequently cited as a reason for voting restrictions, but study after study shows that actual cases of fraud are almost non-existent, and usually the result of unintentional errors by voters or election officials. Our national system of decentralized voting, with state and local non-partisan oversight, makes it nearly impossible for widespread election fraud to occur. Rigging an election just doesn’t happen in the United States. Audits of the most recent elections in Washington State showed once again that incidences of questionable or invalid voting are exceedingly rare.
Confidence in the voting process is essential to a functioning democracy. Claiming widespread voter fraud without evidence undermines the public trust in the election process. It leads to cynicism and a feeling that one’s vote doesn’t matter.
In Washington, we are fortunate that our voting process is relatively easy and less susceptible to voter suppression. Registering is simple, voting by mail gives us all the ability to cast an informed vote without the time restrictions of going to a polling place on Election Day, and there are no restrictive voter ID requirements that make it more difficult for some to exercise their right.
As I said in my first Tumbleweird column (November 2016), everyone who is eligible to vote should do so. Don’t give up your right. If you believe in making your community and your country a better place for the future, if you believe in equality, and if you want your government to represent you as it works for all of us, vote.
Voter turnout continues to be abysmal, particularly in a year without a presidential election. With the ease of voting in Washington, there is no excuse for failing to vote. Local elections have the biggest impact on your daily life and directly influence state and national priorities. Don’t let apathy or cynicism suppress your vote.
Statistics show that older, white voters have a higher turnout rate than any other demographic. And yet younger, poorer voters are more adversely affected by policies that favor corporations and the wealthy.
Protect your right. Study the candidates and the issues. Then, exercise your right as a citizen.