In a democracy, the people hold the political power. Every citizen, controls that power through their vote. We can hire the people who we think will be best for maintaining our democracy or we can fire those who don’t have our best interests in mind.
Democracy requires the people to exercise their right to vote. Throughout our nation’s history, there have been struggles for voter access. It continues today with the crackdown on voting rights that the Republican-controlled Wisconsin Legislature is expected to pursue.
The struggle for voting rights began when the 15th Amendment was passed in 1869 allowing black men to vote. But when they started to cast ballots and were elected to government positions, the Southerners who wanted to maintain the status quo of white power, set up artificial hurtles like poll taxes, literacy tests, and other measures meant to discourage the Blacks from exercising their voting rights.
Barriers like these prompted activist John Lewis and 600 vote-seeking marchers to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 6, 1965. The violence of that day and other civil rights protests pressured the government to finally pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It outlawed legal voting barriers at the state and local levels, ended Jim Crow laws which intimidated black voters and strengthened the voting rights that Native people had won in every state.
However, that act didn’t stop those who continued to try and keep the power for themselves. In 2013 they took their grievances to the United States Supreme Court. In the case known as Shelby County v. Holder the provisions requiring states to get permission before passing new voting laws were dismantled. Since then, self-interested state legislators all over the country had the green light to increase hurdles to voting.
In recent years Republican politicians have tried to retain their power by making it harder for certain populations to vote. These strategies include reducing the number polling locations in predominately African American or Lantinx neighborhoods and only having polling stations open during business hours, when many people are working and unable to take time off.
In the 2020 election, there were additional obstacles to voting employed. Voting machines were removed from polling places which caused hours-long lines. The United States Post Office was crippled to the point that mail delivery was not reliable thus putting mail-in ballots at risk of arriving too late to be counted.
In Wisconsin, some districts have been gerrymandered to the point that Democratic voters have little power. The Republican legislature has initiated voter ID requirements which make it more difficult for the elderly and the poor to vote.
It wasn’t enough that Republicans in the Legislature reduced the opportunity for early voting from three weeks to two weeks, they may further limit early voting. Wisconsin has enjoyed Election Day registration for years but they may try and do away with this also. Absentee voting was instrumental in making it safe for high voter turnout in the November, 2020 election even in a pandemic. Now there may be more restrictions placed on the ability of voters to utilize absentee ballots.
An overhaul of our nation’s voting system is necessary to shore up confidence in our democracy. However, access to the ballot box should be made easier rather than being part of an effort to maintain a partisan advantage by making it harder to vote.
The Democrats have made the need for a fair voting process a top priority with their introduction of the For the People Act in the House of Representatives (H.R.1) and in the Senate (S.1). The Act is meant to counter voter suppression tactics and to make it easier for eligible voters to cast their ballots. It would create national automatic voter registration and require paper ballots in all jurisdictions.
The For the People Act has provisions that address redistricting and government ethics. It would prohibit extreme partisan gerrymandering and take a variety of other steps to make the redistricting process more transparent and accessible, including requiring congressional redistricting to be done by independent commissions.
H.R.1 also involves reform of our campaign finance system. The 2020 election was far and away the most expensive election in American history. We know from extensive research that the people who fund campaigns wield enormous clout in our political system. The For the People Act would revitalize the system that has promoted small donor public financing for presidential primaries and extend it to congressional races.
The bill’s critical companion legislation is the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. It would restore the full sweep of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and undo the damage of the Supreme Court’s Shelby County decision.
It is disappointing that many voters don’t see the need to turn out to vote in local elections. When there is low voter turnout, important local issues are determined by a limited group of voters, making a single vote even more statistically meaningful.
This apathy can’t continue if we want to maintain a vibrant democracy. The Citizens of Wisconsin need to rise up and make it clear to our legislators that we want to expand voting opportunities. Any attempt to restrict election participation of any Wisconsinite should not be tolerated.
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy. Our democracy gives us this precious right. Vote as though your life depends on it, because it does.