Protect the Vote, Don't Suppress It

Efforts in Ohio and Florida to restrict voting are embarrassing—we should not still be fighting to expand voting rights.

By + More

The crowds were getting frustrated, even angry. They were waiting in line for hours in Miami-Dade, wanting to vote, and even when they thought it was just a function of time, officials closed the facility for early voting. Only after shouts of "Let us vote! Let us vote!" did the mayor direct poll workers to reopen so people could cast an early ballot.

In Virginia today, voters who might just be recovering from being inundated with ads and phone calls from campaigns will face one last set of barriers—self-styled poll watchers who claim to be there to make sure no one is voting illegally, but who might just intimidate some voters. There will also be volunteers and lawyers ready to reassure residents of their constitutional right to vote.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the 2012 campaign.]

Ohioans and Democratic officials have had to fight with the GOP secretary of state, John Husted, who has tried several times to limit voting—either by shortening early voting hours or putting a greater burden on voters casting provisional ballots, making those ballots statistically less likely to be counted. He lost the first effort, having fought it all the way to the Supreme Court.

Is this any way for a country which prides itself on its small-d democratic traditions to behave?

[Read the U.S. News Debate: Is Voter Fraud a Real Problem?]

It's embarrassing. A nation which routinely sends election observers to other countries to make sure everything is on the up-and-up is setting an example of a nation that itself might need some outside monitoring. And it's not because an autocratic president has rigged the voting machines or put political opponents in prison. It's because state officials who simply don't want people who look and think differently from them to have a voice at all are using their authority to get their way. An election in a democracy is supposed to be about someone winning with his or her ideas, not drowning out the expression of opposing ideas.

In 1965, the Voting Rights Act was passed to ensure that the votes of minority citizens would not be suppressed or redistricted out of relevance. More than a half century later, the fight is still being waged. How depressing that in the 21st century, Ohio Secretary Husted would go all the way to the Supreme Court not to expand voting rights, but to suppress the vote. President Barack Obama may win; Mitt Romney may score an upset in what has been a very close race. But basic democracy is in trouble.

  • Read Robert Schlesinger: Election Day Likely To Return Status Quo to Washington
  • Read Jamie Stiehm: Mitt Romney's Personality Problem
  • Check out U.S. News Weekly, now available on iPad.