President Obama has now used his election night victory, Inauguration, and State of the Union address to highlight the injustice of long voting lines and voter suppression in America. The question is now what? While it's certainly commendable to direct public airwaves to our nation's archaic electoral process, recent history shows that our antiquity at the ballot box is the result of more rhetoric than substance.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, our voting rights have become more restrictive (rather than accessible) since Florida 2000. Long lines, photo ID restrictions, and misinformation campaigns continue to plague our election system, and more than a dozen states have recently passed legislation that limit voter registration opportunities.
Like clock-work, both parties line up every November to cry foul about the other side's unfair voting policies. Republicans purport rampant "voter fraud" despite infinitesimal evidence to support their bold opinions, while Democrats accurately highlight "Jim Crow style" practices that encumber turnout among minorities and youth.
Yet the minute the horse race dies down, so does any real commitment to action. A hearing is held, a report is released, a commission holds a public meeting, and... nothing happens. At least this has certainly been the case since my first time voting in 2004 at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio. At the time, our student body faced 12 hour lines to cast a ballot--the longest in the country. Outraged, our politicians swore this could never happen again. Yet time passes, and the lines persist.
Meanwhile 2006 and 2008 were good years for Democrats, with victories in the House and Senate. The result? Election reform on the back burner.
Insidiously, more partisan state legislators continue to introduce restrictive voting bills, not for the sake of our democracy or its principles, but to rig the system so they can more easily win Elections. Just last week, a state representative in Indiana introduced legislation that would ban out-of-state college students from voting where they attend school. In Texas, concealed gun licenses are accepted as permissible IDs to register to vote, but not University cards. In Tennessee, University-issued IDs are allowed only for faculty, not students. When will the madness stop?
Unless we demand the sincerity, substance, and courage from our politicians to prioritize voting reform more meaningfully, our future at the ballot box is dim. Republicans are likely to perpetuate a system that tries to give them the edge; while Democrats cry foul but don't act. We, the voters, will remain the victims, as we continue to stand in line for hours or be turned away at the polls for obscure technicalities.
Now is the time to flex our muscles. Election reform is not and cannot remain a second tier issue, and there is no shortage of bills that can solve our ballot barriers. From online voter registration measures, to legislation that expands early voting periods, to same-day voter registration initiatives, to uniform standards for how voting machines are allocated; it does not take a rocket scientist to bring our voting process into the 21st century. All it takes is the activism and backbone to support the rhetoric. I will be meeting with my representatives and Senators to hold their feet to the fire. I hope you will join me. Here's to it...
Matthew Segal is the co-founder and President of OurTime.org, a nationwide voter empowerment non-profit for young Americans. He has testified to Congress four times since 2004 as an expert witness on ways to expand voting rights for students and America's youth. He can be followed on Twitter at @ourtimematthew
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