Voting rights are under attack in America. Quietly, gradually, state-by-state, the right to vote – a right that many people died to secure – is being taken away. The Brennan Center released a report that shows that voting law changes across the nation will make it significantly harder for more than 5 million voters to exercise their constitutional right to vote. This should not be happening.
Today, we should be making it easy, simple, and convenient to vote. Instead, legislatures around the nation are creating barriers and making it more difficult for citizens to vote. There is not just one law, but many types of laws that are disenfranchising millions of voters: voter photo identification laws, proof of citizenship laws, barriers to registration, elimination of early voting and absentee voting, and laws making it harder to restore voting rights for people who have paid their debt to society. These laws are a barrier to an inclusive democracy. We are stepping backward toward another dark time in our history.
We cannot separate the dangerous trend across this nation from our history and the struggle for the right to vote. Before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, not so very long ago, it was almost impossible for some citizens to register and vote. Many were harassed, jailed, beaten, and some were even killed for trying to participate in the democratic process.
The right to vote is precious and almost sacred, and one of the most important blessings of our democracy. Today we must be vigilant in protecting that blessing.
The history of the right to vote in America is a history of conflict, of struggling for the right to vote. Many people died trying to protect that right. I was beaten, and jailed because I stood up for it. For millions like me, the struggle for the right to vote is not mere history; it is experience. We should not take a step backward with new poll taxes and voter ID laws and barriers to voting. We must ensure every vote and every voter counts.
The vote is the most powerful, non-violent tool we have in a democratic society. We must not allow the power of the vote to be neutralized. We must never go back.
Voting is the cornerstone of a democracy but sadly far too few people vote.
- There remains wide gaps between those who do vote which undermines representative democracy.
For the past three decades voters have been disproportionately of higher income, older or more partisan in their interests. Parallel to participation gaps are widening gaps in wealth, reduced opportunity for youth and frustration with the polarization in politics. How would our world be different if everyone participated?
- Much of this gap is due to communities left uninformed about elections.
There are large gaps in who gets contacted in an election campaign. Millions of Americans, especially those served by the nonprofit sector, report not being reached by traditional campaign tactics like a phone bank.
- Not only so, voter participation is a learned activity.
A fact that stands out in the literature is the powerful influence of families in voter and civic participation. As service providers and advocates, we can be too. New voters need our help finding their poll, a number to call for help, learning their voting options and understanding what’s on the ballot or the impact of this election on the issues they care about. It’s also true that communities who have been traditionally underrepresented in the democratic process often face significant barriers to voting, both discriminatory and inadvertent (we move a lot). It is these people who are least likely to understand the process that we serve.
- A functioning Democracy is critical to our Nonprofit Goals and Civic Missions.
The independent sector depends as much as any on good government and fair and open elections. Democracy is something we can’t take for granted. It needs our help. Nonprofits are more likely to thrive in an environment where government is held in higher esteem and people are more likely to participate in and trust democracy.
But why vote?
Voting matters both to the health of the American political system and to the people who participate in it.
Elected officials know who votes.
If your community is turning out well below other neighborhoods, elected officials will pay less attention, make fewer appearances and fewer appeals to your neighborhoods. Who votes has a powerful impact on public policy and government. Your constituents have policy and political concerns – whether the direction of an issue or priorities of public budgets – that won’t be heard if they don’t vote.
- Voting also carries Benefits to those who Participate in it.
People who vote are associated with a host of positive civic, health and social factors.
Among the most studied are that voters are known to be more engaged in other activities like volunteering or contacting their election official. They are more informed about local affairs and a contributor to their neighborhood’s “social capital.” Voters live in communities where there is more trust and people have contact with their neighbors. They are more concerned about their communities and peers and have a greater sense of their ability to impact the world around them.
While these are correlations that work both ways, voting is an important part.