Election Protection, a non-partisan hotline through which volunteers troubleshoot polling place problems and provide voters with information, received twice as many inquiries and complaints on Tuesday as it had during the last mid-term election in 2010.
Calls came from across the country. Confused poll workers in Texas, where one of the most stringent photo ID laws in the country was implemented, inappropriately turned away some voters; their mistakes compounded the damage done by a discriminatory law already designed to disenfranchise hundreds of thousands. Voting machines in Florida ate some people’s votes before they could register their selections. Americans not yet fluent in English were told in countless jurisdictions that they’d have to wing it, without interpretation services to which they’re legally entitled. And thousands of Georgians of color, having registered to vote, showed up on Election Day only to learn that their Secretary of State had processed the applications of their richer, paler neighbors but not their own.
Add to those problems the general inefficiencies Americans experience each time they line up in queue on Election Day: long lines, poll workers set up to fail with inadequate training and not enough supplies, machines well past their prime and prone to breakdowns, registration rolls that don’t keep up with the moves of a mobile population. All this results in Americans being turned away from the polls or, just as bad, a discouragement in the political process that very well keeps them away for good.
In America? In 2014?
It’s no wonder we’re middle of the road – middle of the road, not a leader! – compared to the rest of the world when it comes to extending the franchise, the very right essential to a democracy that is supposed to represent us all.
Amid many of these failures, though, we find some success stories. Wisconsinites were able to vote without having to show an ID that many seniors and low-income people lack. Coloradans had the option of voting by mail, at a secure drop-off location, or in-person at a vote center, where registering and voting on the same day helped bring new voters into the process and with any luck makes them lifetime voters. And Montana voters ensured that same day registration survived attempts to eliminate it.
We need to do better for all American voters. We must streamline – and protect – the process for every eligible American seeking to be heard in the political process. The voter suppression tactics – and they are just that: moves intended to suppress – enacted by legislators the country over should not have to be the call to action for Americans to exert their civic muscle at the polling place. Voting is a right, not an endurance sport. Rather than erecting hurdles – like photo ID, outdated registration rules, or limited voting options – we need to break down barriers to voting. The most essential right of our democracy must be made convenient, not turned into a triathlon for the elite.
After the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder gutted a part of the Voting Rights Act that previously required some jurisdictions to submit proposed voting changes for federal approval, some states began making it harder for many to practice their constitutional right. Texas implemented its ID law; North Carolina cut a week off of early voting, ended same day registration, and put into place its own photo ID law for 2016. Others began whittling away at reforms proven to enhance participation, particularly among those who have been sidelined – people of color, seniors, and students – for far too long.
Did we jump into a time machine?
It’s time to bring back the protective power of the Voting Rights Act, and Congress must act swiftly. Safeguards must be put into place to ensure the ballot box remains revered and accessible. States must create – or rebuild – electoral reforms. With early voting, same day registration, re-enfranchisement for the previously incarcerated – plus many other good laws – we can ensure that all eligible Americans are able to add their voices to fulfill democracy’s promise. Add your name to the hundreds of thousands of Americans who agree that voting is a cherished right that must be protected for all, and stand up for the Voting Rights Amendment Act.
Middle of the road isn’t good enough for this country. And it shouldn’t be good enough for you.