When I went to work as the legislative director for Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin in 2003, I was unprepared for...
Democracy in America is under attack. Politicians in dozens of states are turning back the clock by denying the vote to their own citizens.
Photo ID requirements, shortened early voting periods, limits on poll worker assistance, proof of citizenship requirements, restrictions on same day registration and disenfranchisement of former felons — all disproportionately deny voting rights to people of color, people with disabilities, students, low-income workers and seniors.
Proponents of voter ID laws claim that voter fraud is commonplace, yet multiple studies have shown that the problem is essentially nonexistent. And anecdotal evidence held up by these politicians is consistently debunked as myth.
Voter identification is a convenient euphemism for voter suppression. A full 11 percent of voters currently do not have ID. Most of them are seniors, people of color, people with disabilities, the poor and students. In fact, about one out of five nonwhite citizens and citizens over age 64 do not have government-issued ID. This is not about reducing fraud but part of a coordinated campaign of subtle intimidation intended to suppress the political will and empowerment of millions of Americans.
Election reform is desperately needed, but instead of restricting the right to vote, we should be expanding it by implementing a modern and accessible system for holding elections.
There are more than 30 million Americans with disabilities of voting age, yet the Federal Election Commission reports that there are more than 20,000 inaccessible polling places. Some are located in basements or buildings without ramps, and others only offer machines that are outdated and unworkable for a person who is blind, deaf, or physically impaired. Too many citizens with disabilities can only cast their vote curbside, or are denied the right to a secret ballot when they have to speak their vote out loud for someone else to mark down. If impediments were removed and people with disabilities began voting in the same proportion as other Americans, fully 3.2 million more people would be casting ballots.
It is the duty of our policymakers to remove the barriers to participation for all citizens, including those with disabilities. Modernizing the system with automated registration, online access to records, and accessible voting machines would allow more than 65 million eligible Americans to participate. Investing in a uniform, simplified process for voters would eliminate unnecessary bureaucratic processes, save states money and save election officials time. Right now, state legislators are instead committed to doing the opposite.
Requiring photo ID and imposing other restrictions on the right to vote will not strengthen our democracy. It will only serve to exclude many American from participating in the important decisions that face us all as we work to create an America that is as good as its ideals.
Wade Henderson is the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Mark Perriello is the president of the American Association of People with Disabilities. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can read more pieces from The Progressive Media Project by clicking here.