The power to vote is the cornerstone of democracy. It is an almost sacred responsibility that, in an ideal world, is available to all.
On Nov. 7, I had the privilege of casting my first ballot in a presidential election during Ohio’s early voting period. I waited in line for about 45 minutes with my fellow citizens of Athens, Ohio. The typically slow and basically empty Board of Elections office was filled with people of different ages, races and genders all participating in this great political project. It was in this moment, surrounded by the diversity of this college town tucked away in the rolling hills of Appalachia, I was truly humbled by the magnitude of what was going on around me.
Voting is a beautiful thing, granted, many of our preferred candidates were not on the ballot. However, the fact that we even have the remarkable privilege of direct participation in the political system is an opportunity that should not be taken lightly.
I say all of that so I can say this: anyone who seeks to violate the most brilliant experiment ever undertaken by mankind is an individual who is at odds with the very heart of our ideal civilization.
The United States has a rocky history in terms of voting rights. The right to vote was essentially limited to white male landowners until the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, which allowed black men to vote. However, several states passed what were known as “grandfather clauses” that attempted to offset the growing number of black voters by enabling more poor whites to vote. Following that, Jim Crow-era legislation was specifically designed to limit the African American vote. Some practices included literacy tests and poll taxes that granted the right to vote.
One of the monumental achievements of the Civil Rights Movement was the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited any race-specific election practices and required certain states with a history of these practices to require federal approval of any changes to election laws. The protections of this act were extended under several different presidential administrations, including Nixon, Ford, and W. Bush.
However, in 2013 the Voting Rights Act was essentially gutted by the Supreme Court. States that were required to get federal approval of election law changes were no longer bound by the rule. As a result, many of those states announced that they would begin to impose new election laws, such as requiring photo identification.
This sounds reasonable on paper. However, in practice this is a tactic imposed with malicious intent.
North Carolina is notorious for the negative aspect of those practices. For example, it imposed stringent voter ID laws, reduced early voting hours, banned same-day registration, eliminated straight-ticket voting and prohibited pre-registration for 16 or 17 year olds receiving their driver’s license. This is all done in the name of addressing voter fraud, which is essentially nonexistent.
Each of these practices disproportionately affect African American voters, who overwhelmingly vote Democratic. These practices were challenged in a federal appeals court, which stated, “We can only conclude that the North Carolina General Assembly enacted the challenged provisions of the law with discriminatory intent.” The North Carolina Republican Party went as far as admitting that it eliminated Sunday voting because “counties with Sunday voting in 2014 were disproportionately black” and “disproportionately Democratic.”
This behavior is absolutely disgusting and should be removed as far as possible from our democratic system. To have a state party come out and admit that their intention was to reduce African American turnout is a travesty. If you are too afraid to participate in a system which is free and open to citizens, regardless of their ideology, then you have no place in politics.
Considering these recent debacles, I believe that we need a reinstatement of the provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were struck down. To think we are living in a post-racial society is ludicrous, and to believe that states with a proven history of voter suppression will suddenly become fair and egalitarian when no longer federally mandated to do so is simply foolish.
When I was standing in line to vote, I thought about the decades long struggle different groups have endured in order to secure a right I would have had no matter what century I lived in. Blood has spilled and tears have been shed for what should be a basic human right. To deny that right on any basis is evil. An undisputed access to the vote must be secured for all groups in order to have the healthiest democracy possible in our nation.