A major presidential election is fast-approaching and I'm afraid that millions who want their voice heard will not get the chance to vote on November 6.
I run an organization dedicated to affordable and accessible health care for Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders, so why am I writing about voting rights? Because some of the same communities that face barriers to good health and quality health care also stand to be disenfranchised. Our health and our right to vote are fundamental to our democracy.
Unfortunately, over the last two years, politicians in numerous states have passed laws that make it more difficult for millions of eligible Americans to vote, many of whom live in communities of color. Florida's governor, for example, in an attempt to identify non-citizens on the voter rolls, created a "purge" list with tens of thousands of names. This effort was particularly egregious given that Florida has one of the largest immigrant populations. More than half of the people on the purge list had Hispanic surnames. The list was full of inaccuracies and eligible voters, including a World War II vet. And yet, thirteen other states are about to follow Florida's lead.
That's not all. Come Election Day, voters in 11 states will be required to present state-issued photo ID with a current address. While most Americans have some form of government-issued photo ID, approximately 21 million Americans do not. These new ID laws are restrictive and disproportionately impact communities of color, senior citizens, veterans, youth, low-income people and communities that do not speak English very well - as they all have additional hurdles to overcome in order to get these specific forms of identification. An estimated 25% of African Americans, 20% of Asian Americans, and 19% of Latinos lack a valid photo ID. These laws are particularly concerning for Asian Americans, where 78% of voting-age adults surveyed did not vote because they had the wrong ID.
Another five states have passed laws reducing early-voting periods, which African Americans and Latinos rely on twice more often than Whites. These laws fly in the face of Census data which shows that during the November 2010 election, the most common reason for not voting among surveyed Whites, Blacks and Asians was being too busy or scheduling conflicts. Reducing early-voting prevents eligible Americans, including many working people, from exercising their Constitutional right to vote.
Voter intimidation--or efforts to prevent eligible voters from casting their ballot--is also a pressing concern this election season. These tactics can range from challenging a person's right to vote to actual threats or intimidation. Not surprisingly, low-income and communities of color are often targeted. These efforts are particularly concerning in places like Texas--a "minority-majority" state--where laws governing voter intimidation are mixed and could stand in the way of eligible Americans casting their votes.
We need lawmakers to protect our right to vote, not restrict it. We need to expand voting to all eligible Americans, regardless of their race, ethnicity or ability to speak English. We need to enforce the federal voting protections that already exist, by providing in-language ballots for those with limited-English proficiency. And we need to oppose inflexible ID requirements.
That's why leading health, justice, civil rights and social justice organizations around the country have been teaming up to protect the right to vote. These organizations are joining together on September 25th for National Voter Registration Day. The goal is simple: mobilize and educate all communities to ensure that every eligible American is registered to vote on Election Day.
Voting is a right, civic duty and responsibility. We must do everything in our power to ensure that Americans who meet voting requirements and want to vote, can exercise that right. So on September 25th, let's make sure we win the fight to make all voices heard.