At this moment there are significant and dangerous efforts afoot to curb the right of citizens to vote. The U. S. Constitution in its 15th Amendment, adopted in 1871, states; ”The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color or previous condition of servitude.” It was one of the three amendments honoring the pledges of freedom for which the bloody Civil War was fought. And in 1920 the 19th amendment was adopted granting women the right to vote. Thus all American citizens have been given the constitutional and absolute right to vote.
Now, in the year 2012, efforts are under way in many states(including Missouri) to narrow, restrict, limit and make difficult the voting rights for many of our citizens. These unwarranted and unfair efforts are aimed at the poor, the disadvantaged and the elderly. They include numerous new requirements for specific types of Voter ID cards, and encouraging voting by extending voting hours in affluent districts but not in the poor neighborhoods. What is happening in this country?
If asked, those supporting these requirements will deny there is anything directed to the elderly, disenfranchised or poor. But one only has to look at Pennsylvania or Ohio for examples. In Ohio if you live in certain counties you can vote starting in October in the evenings and weekends. But if you live in other areas these same opportunities are denied, as the Election Board is attempting to end voting early and not allowing it on weekends. All of these are thinly disguised attempts to deny voting to all citizens. Where is democracy turning in order to favor one party over the other?
In Pennsylvania there is the newly enacted law requiring an ID which will hurt many people who do not have a driver’s license and who in the past have been allowed to vote. As the New York Times said in a recent editorial, “the electoral system is being manipulated by blocking the voting rights of opponents.”
And here in Missouri we have seen a number of attempts in the legislature to pass restrictive voting requirements but they have been opposed by the Governor. This year HB 1104 passed the House but did not make it through the Senate. The Republicans tried to require the Department of Health and Senior Services to provide free birth certificates (HB1104 and 2012). In 2011 there was a joint resolution passed requiring a vote of the people favoring IDs in any November 2012 election but the language was challenged and thrown out by the court.
If we continue down this road, soon we will no longer be the democracy that the founding fathers envisioned, for which a Civil War was fought, and for which women marched and worked for decades to achieve. That would take us down a very dangerous path.
As a result I urge everyone to get out and vote because it is so important and fight hard in every way against voting right restrictions and increased voting qualifications.
We must watch very carefully to see that everyone who is eligible can vote, that voting places have not arbitrarily changed without due notice, that there are no extraordinarily long lines in some places and not in others, and that all polls open and close at the same time. We owe this to our country and to our democracy.
(The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of St. Louis Public Radio.)
Susan Uchitelle is a consultant for the Voluntary Interdistrict Coordinating Council.