In the face of partisan ploys to rig the election system, President Obama took a strong stand to support voting rights in last night's State of the Union address. The story of Desiline Victor, the 102-year old woman that stood in line for three hours to vote, is both inspiring and troubling. Inspiring because it reveals a continuing confidence in and commitment to American democracy. Troubling because it demonstrates the very real threats to that same democracy. It is a story that should compel Congress and state legislatures across the country to action. The time for action is now.
Our democratic system is great, but low voter participation diminishes its greatness. In 2012, a mere 27% of the voting age population elected the President of the United States. Our goal should be to increase that number, not make it even smaller with strict voter ID laws, reductions in early voting, clamp downs on voter registration initiatives, and ill-founded Electoral College "reforms." All of these actions decrease an already anemic voter turnout and further erode confidence in the system.
There are many plausible reasons why voter turnout is so low, and for some the solution remains elusive. But there is at least one reason for which the solution is both obvious and enactable: voting is unnecessarily cumbersome.
21st century technology allows us to completely revamp our voter registration system, and yet in most states we are unwilling to do so. At this point in history, there is no reason why we should not have nationwide online and same day voter registration. Both of these reforms are proven to increase voter registration and turnout. Early voting and vote by mail would also greatly increase voter participation. Let's pass them today. Tell your Congressmen to co-sponsor the Voter Empowerment Act.
But in all of our excitement for the President's support of voting rights, let us not forget another important piece in this puzzle that was not addressed in the State of the Union. Free and fair elections require accessible voting as well as a process unfettered by the undue influence of corporate and billionaire campaign contributions. Nearly 40,000 Americans petitioned the President to address the need for a constitutional amendment to remove the billions and billions of special interest money flooding our elections. The fact that the call went unanswered does not undermine the importance of the task; it only means we have to make the call even louder.
American democracy is great, but it can be even greater. And the time to achieve that vision is now.