Amid partisan debate over the mechanics of casting a ballot, we seem to have lost focus on the understanding that voting is a core right of the people in our democracy.
Our original Constitution was far from perfect and excluded large swaths of people from participation in our democracy. But we have made some progress in 200 years, slowly acknowledging that the right to vote should not be denied on the basis of race or sex.
Access to voting should be viewed as a right — not a privilege that citizens of our country must wait in long lines to exercise. It is a right that all our elected leaders should bend over backwards to protect, ensuring that every American can cast a ballot without missing a day’s pay, traveling hours, or worrying that their vote won’t be counted. Voting for legislation like the Freedom to Vote Act, which would expand opportunities to register to vote and to cast a ballot, should be a no brainer for lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.
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As a life-long advocate for a more accountable and effective government, I’ve thought a lot about how important voting is to our democracy. And the right to vote should be an apolitical, unquestionable right in this country.
I brought my children to the polls with me when they were young to teach them how important it is to exercise the right to vote. It never struck me that access to the polls would become more difficult as they got older. It felt unfathomable then that our country would slip backwards on such a foundational component of our democracy.
Our leaders need to start respecting the right of the American people to hold elected officials accountable — and understand that voting rights reform is a key step to achieving a more accountable government.
The freedom to vote — or denial of that freedom — has long been wielded by the powerful to maintain their power by suppressing the will of those who may oppose them. That was the impetus behind the racist schemes to consolidate power that prompted the Voting Rights Act.
The slate of voter suppression laws currently working their way through numerous state legislatures should be viewed as nothing short of a racist power grab akin to what we saw across the South in the 20th century.
We cannot stand by and let this happen.
Lack of Republican support for federal laws bolstering the right to vote may make it seem like voting rights legislation is partisan. But the opposite is true.
Those who enact voter suppression laws have politicized this fundamental freedom, and we cannot accept their toxic framing of this issue. Those who are working to subvert the will of the people are abusing their power to avoid being held accountable for their misdeeds and corruption. Voter suppression is, at its core, a means to prevent accountability. It rigs the rules for those who fear losing the game.
Our democracy was built upon the right of its citizens to choose their leaders — this is what makes the American experiment truly exceptional. Any laws or rules that make it more challenging to vote undermine the integrity of our democracy. Elections allow citizens to choose their leaders — and to vote them out of office if they abuse their power or act corruptly. Undermining Americans’ ability to cast their ballots weakens the single best tool we have to hold our government and its leaders accountable.
Worse yet, rules that cravenly limit the ability of low-income workers and people of color to cast ballots are frankly un-American. They threaten to reverse the progress made by the civil rights movement under the guise of addressing a problem that doesn’t exist.
Two hundred years ago, the only Americans with the right to vote were white, male landowners. We’ve rejected those egregious restrictions, along with others, as antithetical to our democracy. So how can we have a true democracy now if only those Americans who can afford to take off work or who live close to a polling place are able to easily and freely vote?
The ability to vote is the right upon which every other right in our democracy is built. It is why we broke free from a monarchy. It’s how we’ve held our elected officials accountable to continue perfecting our union. Rather than working to suppress the vote, our leaders need to stop everything else they are doing and prioritize efforts to preserve our democracy. The right to vote is foundational to our form of government. And undermining Americans’ freedom to cast a vote flies in the face of the very purpose of our nation.