January 31, 2019

Voting: We Have The Right, What We Lack Is Access

Through the centuries, blockades to enfranchisement have been both erected and demolished

by Susan E. Stutz

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Bloody Sunday — Selma, Alabama: March 7, 1965. Photo Credit: Spider Martin

The right to vote has been a cornerstone of our democracy since the idea of what it means to be free in America was conceived. And, down through the centuries, blockades to enfranchisement have been both erected and demolished.

In our earliest history, the right to vote was denied to every person in America with the exception of white, landowning men. Over the course of time, voting requirements and restrictions have been an ever-evolving issue. As each state was formed, their individual Constitutions were written and amended to continue the denial of rights, recognize the right but with restrictive conditions, or remove restrictions previously placed. In 2015, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act which stated that the right to vote could not be denied because of a person’s race. In 2020 we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted women’s suffrage.

Today there are 231 bills related to the issue of voting pending across 31 states. There are bills that address automatic voter registration, voter identification, absentee/early voting, and voting rights restoration.

However, there are 24 bills that seek to make access to voting more restrictive than it already is. Blocking access to the polls is nothing new. The fervor with which it is currently happening should alarm us all.

When gerrymandering just isn’t enough, states like Texas look to implement laws that permit poll personnel to photograph individuals whose form of identification is, in their view, suspect. Amid claims of voter fraud, legislation such as TX H 154 seems like a reasonable attempt to ensure that voters are who they say they are. Simple, right? Not quite. While there is scant evidence that voter fraud exists, much less in numbers sufficient to affect the outcome of an election, there is credible research that demonstrates that institutional burdens such as voter identification requirements, have the largest impact on minorities who have less access to resources and education, and as such, are more institutionally isolated.

In times when democracy appears to be a punching bag, it is up to us to come out fighting by letting our local, state, and national officials know where we stand.

Here’s a roundup of voting rights legislation around the country:

Automatic Voter Registration

These states have one or more bills pending which provide for automatic voter registration, which requires an “opt-out” instead of an “opt-in” to voting commensurate with the application or renewal of a driver’s license or state-issued identification: Arizona, Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Indiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia.

Voter Identification

Residents of the following states should look for bills that affect voter identification both at the time of registration and at the polls on Election Day: Arizona, Connecticut, Illinois, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, North Dakota, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Absentee and Early Voting

If you live in one if these states, you have pending bills that address a variety of issues related to absentee and early voting, including no-excuse absentee ballots: Arizona, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Rights Restoration for Convicted Persons

In November 2018, Florida citizens voted to amend their Constitution to restore the right to vote to 1.4 million people with prior felony convictions. These states have pending legislation to restore the right of voting to its previously convicted residents: Arizona, Connecticut, Georgia, Hawaii, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, Washington, and West Virginia.

H.R. 1

Last but not least, is the package working through the United States Congress, known as HR1. It’s a collection of proposals to expand voting rights, enact campaign finance reform, crackdown on lobbying, and many other needed democratic reforms. Yesterday Mitch McConnell called the idea of making Election Day a federal holiday, a “power grab” by Democrats. Sure Mitch.

Taking Back Democracy

Contact Your Officials

Expanding voting access across all fifty states is the cornerstone of getting policies that work for all Americans. If you live in any state mentioned above, fire up Resistbot, and tell your elected officials what you think. Say state to write to your state legislators, or congress to write your federal ones.

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