A family friend recently responded to something I’d written in support of vote-by-mail, saying “Voting is a privilege”. I beg to differ. Living in a free democracy is a privilege. Voting is a right and a responsibility. It is, in fact,the rent you pay for living in a working and evolving democracy.
We need to change our view of voting – of the process and what it means. Voting itself evokes a myriad of reactions: some think their vote doesn’t count “so why bother”, others see it as a sacred duty, and still others as a reward, a privilege. Voting is how we level the playing field, and voter suppression is simply an attempt to keep the status quo. The beautiful thing about democracy is that, in theory, we are all equal. Voter suppression, in the form of restricted polling places and and voter I.D. requirements under the guise of voter fraud protection, supports the notion that voting is a privilege, and as such is reserved for the privileged few. If we cling to this vision of voting as a privilege we are not serving this country or its citizens.
If voter fraud is your only argument against making voting easier, then you should look at the statistics. An Arizona State University study found only 10 cases of voter fraud in the years 2000-2012, as quoted by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. Voter fraud is the monster under the bed that politicians use to defend voter suppression. Kris Kobach’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity claimed that there was widespread voter fraud in New Hampshire, only to have that argument fact-checked (quoted by USA Today) and found to be bogus.
If you think that voting is a privilege that should be undertaken with ceremony, e.g. lining up at polling places and not easy, then perhaps you have a job whose schedule fits around polling hours. I work a semi-swing shift in grocery, and when I get off from work I pick up my child after school. As I’m not about to miss out on voting I am registered as a permanent absentee voter so that I may vote by mail. Does this make my vote count less? Am I not taking elections seriously enough because I fill out my ballot while in my pajamas? I read my voter pamphlet and weigh my decisions. Yes, I miss out on the camaraderie of the polling place line. I do not miss worrying about whether I’ll be late for my shift because of that line. Would you rather people working in retail just not vote? What about doctors working in emergency rooms who can’t leave a patient to go vote? Or EMT? Firefighters? Police? What about the minimum wage worker in an assisted living facility taking care of your parents? Do they not deserve to have their voice heard because they are on a 12 hour shift?
We should be making it easier to vote and to include more people in the process. The State of California should be promoting Vote by Mail as an option. People should not be turned away at polling places, they should be welcomed with open arms. Let’s stop seeing voting as something for the privileged few, but as the duty we owe this country to keep it moving forward and reflecting its citizens.