As we mark the 50th anniversary of the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and Dr. King's legendary speech, it is disheartening to see elected officials still promoting laws to prevent mostly poor and minority Americans from voting. By requiring photo IDs in the polling place or proof of citizenship when registering, states are imposing unnecessary burdens to deliberately exclude citizens from the election process.
As I write this, the states of Arizona and Kansas are suing the federal government to erect hurdles to voter registration by requiring proof of citizenship. The U.S. Department of Justice is suing the state of Texas over its voter identification law, which can require poor Texans to travel hundreds of miles to obtain IDs that meet the law's draconian standards. These are the latest skirmishes in a virtual war on low-income, black and Hispanic voters; disingenuous local officials have boldly invented problems to justify so-called solutions to disenfranchise them.
While some people are adamant about the existence of voter impersonation fraud, it is actually as rare as getting struck by lightning. However, since up to 11 percent of Americans don't have a government-issued photo ID, one out of every five two-person households might have a voter who is suddenly ruled ineligible to vote under ID laws, even after a lifetime of voting. The more elderly, disabled, college-age, poor or minority people in your neighborhood, the more households on your block could be disenfranchised.
This is not a theory. Elderly citizens born before modern record-keeping, retirees without driver's licenses and college students are all likely victims. Scattershot proposals to target phantom law-breakers will turn actual American citizens into collateral damage.
Instead of this frenzy of restrictive, anti-democratic voting laws, states should be collaborating on an election system that is cheaper, simpler and more accessible. This "ideal voting process" might include:
- weekend or holiday voting;
- election day registration;
- accessible polling places in schools and public buildings;
- one-stop online election information and resources, including online registration;
- convenient options such as no-excuse early and mail voting;
- a national voter look-up tool to provide polling place and ballot information;
- government-initiated registration, often known as universal or automatic registration.
Just as Illinois recently enacted a law for online registration, other states have implemented common sense and cost-effective election reforms. This is where public officials must focus. We must make it easier for citizens to register, vote and run for office, instead of making it harder to exercise their rights as Americans. Fifty years on, an inclusive democracy should be more than a dream.