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Eva M. Clayton

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Celebrate Our Independence by Committing to the Right to Vote

Posted: 07/04/2012 10:45 am

During a recent speech given by Congresswoman Marcia Fudge (D-OH) in North Carolina, she emphasized the need to be ever more vigilant about the right to vote and the fact that protecting that right should be the first priority for legislators both in the states and in Congress. Her speech caused some reflection -- I agree protecting our right to vote should be a priority for all Americans. All Americans who love liberty and our democracy should be vigilant too. Republican-led state legislatures across the country have pursued an agenda focused on restrictive voting laws that would prevent eligible voters from the diamond of our democracy: the right to vote. We cannot stand for such outlandish measures.

The right to vote defines our great nation as a democracy. This essential American right, that is often taken for granted, has evolved over years of struggle by many Americans to ensure that all eligible citizens be afforded the opportunity to exercise this basic right. This precious American right, however, is under attack. Consequently, the struggle to protect 'the right to vote' must be renewed by the American people to ensure the future of our democracy. This fight should be embraced by all -- regardless of political affiliation.

As we celebrate the birth of our country's independence, this is an excellent time to reaffirm that voting rights are core to who we are as Americans -- and not something we take lightly.
While we enjoy the fireworks and family picnics, take time to reflect on the founding principles of our nation as set forth in the Declaration of Independence -- and be mindful of the need to carry on those principles.

Most of us can recite the first sentence of the preamble to the Declaration, verbatim.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

Further in that document, it states,

"That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,"...

We know that in this statement governed means, we the people, citizens and voters who elect representatives who form our government. Why, then, is this unsettling attempt being made to try to suppress the right of the governed from voting?

Consider the facts: In 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions, 10 states passed voter identification legislation while 34 states considered putting forth these voter restriction measures. While we know that the right to vote transcends any one election, it is important to pay attention to how these new laws will impact the 2012 election, where voter turnout will be a key factor.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these new laws will impact more than five million eligible voters in 2012. Voters in states representing 70 persons of the electoral vote will be affected by these restrictive laws this year -- including photo ID laws, proof of citizenship, making voter registration harder, reducing early and absentee days and making it harder to restore voting rights. Proponents of these restrictive measures claim that their efforts are simple -- to ensure that voting rights' are administered lawfully and free of fraud. Most Americans believe that is a good principle and that all laws should be administered in this manner. Yet, overlooked are the ways and methods of compliance to ensure that eligible citizens register and vote free of fraud without targeting the most vulnerable in our communities -- the poor and disabled, people of color and young people.

The majority of the analyses out there show that documented voter fraud has been very low, the question then is why the push for these restrictive measures. There is more reason than good governance and fraud-free elections to this unsettling push. It is very political. The unintended consequences of these restrictive matters, however, will come to affect us all. This is bad news for the most successful democracy in the world.

Those of us, hopefully most Americans, who are committed to this basic right, must speak up and act. Those of us, who believe that these restrictive laws are not democratic, should become engaged. Citizens must do more than be outraged; we must educate and mobilize our neighborhoods block by block. We can and must do better.

 

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