Let Them Vote!

Today, the Supreme Court had to strike down two gerrymandered congressional districts in North Carolina that were designed to dilute the black vote. The week before, it effectively upheld a lower court's finding that the same state’s new voter ID law represents an unconstitutional restriction on citizens’ ability to vote, targeting African-Americans “with almost surgical precision.”

North Carolina, like several Republican-controlled states, is a serial offender against voting rights, its state legislature making a continuous effort to disenfranchise black voters. The reason is simple: minorities tend to lean Democratic. What’s not democratic is these Republicans’ efforts to stay in power by stifling Democratic voters, passing laws that make it harder for certain groups to vote.

Such laws are often passed under the guise of combating voter fraud, and make no mistake: where voter fraud does exist, it must be stamped out. But the fact of the matter is that voter fraud occurs at negligible levels in our country, and when it does occur, the perpetrators are almost always caught. Meanwhile, efforts to restrict voting are widespread and intensifying, often disproportionately affecting minorities, the poor, and the elderly. Such efforts are not only undemocratic and illegal, but threaten the country by undermining public faith in our elections and, therefore, the credibility of our leaders. It’s time to put an end to the ferocious assault on voting rights. Voting should be effortless for all eligible Americans, regardless of race, age, or income, and there are several steps we must take to achieve that. Registration is a crucial hurdle that can stand in the way of voting. That is why all Americans should be automatically registered to vote when they turn 18, allowing them to vote as soon as they are of age without having to navigate through red tape. Even if they ultimately choose not to exercise their right to participate in a given election, the old adage is certainly true of registration to vote: better to have it and not need it than to need it and not have it. Next, when registered voters get to the polls, they must be allowed to vote. Too many jurisdictions place burdensome restrictions on what kinds of identification are acceptable at the polls, requiring documents that some types of voters don’t tend to have. The idea of requiring government-issued identification (as opposed to ID issued by third parties, like universities) makes sense from an antifraud standpoint, but if we are going to require specific types of ID to vote, we must also make sure that all voters have that required type of ID. To that end, when citizens are registered to vote, they should also be issued an acceptable form of ID, so that they actually can vote. Both processes should happen automatically and free of charge; it’s only fair that any documents required to vote be provided to all voters. Getting to the polls can be a problem all its own. Every election, voters find themselves disenfranchised by long lines, inconvenient polling hours, and remote or inaccessible polling locations. We must invest in the health of our democracy and solve these problems by making Election Day a federal holiday, and by making it easier for people to vote quickly, early, and from more locations. If we’re serious about letting all Americans exercise their right to vote, we need to adopt a more flexible and accessible polling system. States should have the leeway to develop the polling systems that work best for them, but there is a severe problem when these systems don’t work well for the voters. In line with the thinking behind the Voting Rights Act, Congress should set minimum standards with which every states’ elections must comply, to ensure that every eligible person who wants to vote gets to vote. When states fail to meet this standard, there should be an established legal system to challenge and change unsuccessful policies. These efforts are important, and should be accompanied by sensible and overdue housekeeping measures. It’s time to update our voter rolls across the country, making sure that voters are only registered where they live, and that the deceased do not appear on voter rolls. Finally, investing in democracy also means securing our election infrastructure, to ensure that every valid vote is counted and only valid votes are counted. While Russia’s attempts to compromise election infrastructure in 2016 appear to have been unsuccessful, we know such efforts won’t stop there; it’s imperative that we bring our election infrastructure up to modern security standards immediately, so that we can beat out the inevitable future attempts. We should also make sure that every step of the election process leaves a verifiable paper trail; only by guaranteeing the security of our elections can we keep our complete faith in the results. Protecting the right to vote in free and fair elections is critical to our democracy, and we have much work to do in making sure every eligible voter finds it easy to participate. Some of the efforts outlined here are already in place or under consideration in various jurisdictions—it’s time to implement them all, nationwide, to make American elections the most fair, full, and secure in the world.

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