To this day, the 2000 presidential contest still sparks emotional debate and heated discussions for its controversial ending. For me, if there is one indelible image seared on my brain, it's the photo of the Florida election official, with his magnifying glass, trying to determine the intent of a chad – hanging or not. In that election, the power and impact of a single vote was demonstrated in a profound and historical manner.
But the election also exposed vulnerabilities in our electoral system. Subsequently, legislation on both the federal and state levels was enacted to modernize voting systems, to make polling places more accessible and to expand voting opportunities, all the while ensuring the integrity and accuracy of each vote.
In the next two presidential election cycles (2004 and 2008), voter participation increased as people went to the polling booths in record numbers. However, in 2012, presidential election participation actually decreased, with only 57.5 of the electorate (126 million people) casting their votes. To put it in other words, 93 million eligible Americans either chose not to engage or were denied the opportunity.
Unfortunately, in the aftermath of the 2010 GOP electoral tidal wave, and most recently in North Carolina, there have been a series of voting right setbacks that now make it harder for many Americans to access the ballot box. Republican-controlled state legislatures and governors have enacted new burdensome and arguably discriminatory laws that disproportionately affect minority, senior and student voters by mandating that specific state ID cards be obtained in order to vote. Separately, new laws now establish fees to obtain new ID cards that adversely affect the poor, and other legislation shortens the early vote window that historically has allowed working Americans the ability to vote on weekends.
For a party that claims to base its philosophy on the notion of a vibrant republic with strong individual freedom and less government interference, it puzzles me as to why Republicans have done exactly the opposite – systematically taken deliberate steps to limit and stifle an individual's participation in the democracy. Are they scared of what the people might say?
Republicans like to talk about spreading democracy across the globe, but yet their actions here at home betray their own words when they seek to deny Americans one of the basic tenets of a free society – the right to choose their government.
To me, this seems to be precisely the wrong approach. If anything, we should be enacting legislation to encourage and expand participation, not suppress it, which is why I applaud the efforts by a new organization called American Values First.
AVF's goal is to launch an initiative in all 50 states to promote easier ballot access. One idea it is advocating is greater access to receiving and casting a ballot by mail. Currently, Oregon and Washington conduct elections entirely through the postal mail service, and these two states consistently rank in the upper echelon in voter participation. Interestingly, costs associated with conducting elections by mail are lower and voter fraud is negligible. These jurisdictions have recognized that, given the opportunity, a voter would rather drop off her ballot at her own convenience rather than be confined to voting at a specific place and time.
Going forward, it's my hope that more states, if not congress itself, will emulate the efforts of Oregon and Washington, remove obstacles of participation and, instead, allow all citizens of our great nation to have a voice by registering their votes without limitation.
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