Voting. It’s the key to the most basic American value, the one that makes the others real: self-government. Democracy. It’s why we fought the Revolutionary War. It’s what has made America a glowing aspiration for people around the world. The right to vote is what makes a country a true democracy. Limit the right to only some of the people and you don’t really have self-government anymore.
But that is exactly what is happening across America today: states are making it harder and harder for people to vote, virtually guaranteeing that many people won’t really have the right at all.
States are passing laws on registering voters so technical and with such harsh penalties that people are afraid to help get new voters on the rolls. In Florida, the League of Women Voters was so intimidated, it stopped registering voters. Listen to what people who registered folks for years as volunteers have to say about the new law.
States are cutting back on early voting on weekends, which is so important for people with two jobs or kids. States are passing voter identification laws that sound like no big deal — everybody has a driver’s license, right — that turn out to that make it difficult or impossible to get an I.D. That means people who’ve had the right all their lives will lose it. And not just a few people — thousands and thousands and thousands.
Democracy was new when the United States was founded and it took us a long time to become a real democracy. It wasn’t until 1856 that all the states agreed that white men could vote even if they didn’t own property. It wasn’t all steady progress. We amended the Constitution to give African-Americans the right to vote in 1870, and then let some states take it away for nearly a century with poll taxes and literacy tests.
Slowly but surely though, we moved ever closer to real self-government.
1920: Women get the vote.
1924: Native Americans get the right to vote in federal elections.
1964: We amend the Constitution to outlaw poll taxes.
1965: Congress passes the Voting Rights Act, designed to get rid of all the devices that keep African-Americans from voting.
1990: The Americans with Disabilities Act says polling places should be accessible.
But now we’re reversing course. All these new schemes are justified in the name of preventing fraud. But vote fraud, it turns out, isn’t much of a problem in America these days. An abundance of “caution” may be OK in some circumstances. But it isn’t when the consequence is taking self-government away from thousands of Americans.
Every single person who loses the right to vote takes us one more step away from being the kind of nation we’ve spent 200 years making ourselves into: a nation of free people who rule themselves. We can’t let that happen. We’ve got to get back on track, to expand the right to vote by making it easy and accessible, so that we truly become a complete democracy. We need to Let People Vote.