Our Voices and Votes Matter

The fight to increase access to the ballot continues despite voter suppression efforts

Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach convened the first meeting of the Election Integrity Commission yesterday. Although this commission claims that it is a way for the federal government to ensure that people are voting lawfully, it is actually a thinly-veiled attempt at voter disenfranchisement. This is a backwards view of democracy. Democracy should be about ensuring that all voices are heard, not about stifling and discouraging them.

Even before the first meeting, the commission made waves by requesting invasive information like voting history, registered political party, and partial social security numbers for every voter in the United States, which would intimidate people from registering to vote and can be used to target vulnerable voting populations.

Making matters worse is the commission’s plan is to have the federal government de-register anyone they believe is voting unlawfully. These moves all add up to a plan to intimidate people from registering to vote and to suppress eligible voters at the ballot box. When laws make it more difficult for people to cast a vote, it disproportionately affects young voters, communities of color, immigrants, and other minority voter populations. But amid the darkness of the Pence-Kobach Commission and its assault on voting rights, there is a beacon of light from legislators who want to increase access to voting for all eligible Americans.

On the federal level, the Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Voting Rights Amendment Act were recently introduced in Congress. These bills would protect our voting rights and push America’s voting system to be more just by holding accountable those states and localities with a pattern of discrimination and ensuring that last-minute voting changes do not negatively affect voters. These two pieces of legislation — in conjunction with other congressional efforts such as the Voter Empowerment Act and the Time Off to Vote Act — would strengthen voting rights protections and help the federal government and other voting rights advocates fight voting discrimination.

On the state and local level, legislators have been advocating to increase voters’ access to the ballot. Illinois passed its Automatic Voter Registration bill after years of advocacy. Our affiliate, Advancing Justice — Chicago, was a part of this effort to increase people’s access to voting. Across the country, at least 531 bills to enhance voting access have been introduced in 45 states. Out of those, 156 bills in 30 states have at least been considered and approved by a legislative committee.

Even though our voting rights are under attack, there are still people who are fighting for our right to cast a ballot. Overall, 166 bills to improve early voting or absentee voting access have been introduced in 35 states.

Voting is a fundamental right. It’s a chance to have our voices heard at the state, local, and federal levels. Now it is more important than ever to focus on making it easier for people to vote, not harder, by protecting the rights of voters and fighting against any attempts to suppress those rights. The federal government should be concerned with empowering voters to use their voices at the polls. We have the right to say that our voices matter — no matter our race, language, ability, or country of origin.