The right to vote is central to democracy. It’s what makes our country so great. One person, one vote. Your vote counts. Your vote matters.
At least that’s what we’ve been told. We’ve moved beyond the time when only white men could vote. Amendments that give other groups the ability to cast their ballot were created. According to the 15th Amendment, people can’t be denied the right to vote because of race, color or previous condition of servitude. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote in 1920. Based on these amendments, everyone is covered and their right to vote protected, making this country’s democratic process the envy of the world (or so we’ve been told). I remember learning how other countries model their fight for the right to vote after us, and how the ability to vote for the candidate of your choice is a right Americans shouldn’t take lightly.
And I didn’t. I remember how excited and nervous I was the first time I entered a voting booth, the gravity of my actions on my shoulders. I remember pulling the lever and thinking I just did something big. I made a difference. I honored those who came before me and died for my right to vote. I implored friends and relatives to vote. I chastised those who didn’t, reminding them that Black people and women weren’t originally included and so it’s our duty to exercise it for our ancestors who were prohibited, beaten and killed for this right.
But then you start thinking about it. The fact that we had to fight for this right is telling. The fact that only white men who owned property were allowed to vote is telling. It tells us no one else mattered. Only a few voices should be heard, and they have the right to make decision for the masses.
While I’ve been taught poll taxes, the grandfather clause, literacy tests and English-language requirements were a thing of the past and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 ensures our ability to vote, I’ve learned voter suppression isn’t dead. Voter ID laws, limiting the ability to vote by absentee ballot, and reducing polling locations and early voting are just a few supression tactics used in recent years. We are still fighting for our right to vote.
Today these voter suppression tactics are masked as efforts to protect the vote from fraud. Our country is fraught with so much unproven fraud. Politicians, specifically Republicans, are wringing their hands with worry. They must, they say, protect us and protect democracy.
It’s funny that these protectors want to limit who can vote, not actually protect the vote. Instead of creating laws to make voting more accessible, providing more resources so county clerks can ensure a smooth process by having enough people and equipment, they spend their time making up stories of fraud, crafting laws and going to court.
In Indiana, Senate Bill 353 has passed the Senate and has moved to the Indiana House of Representatives Committee on Elections and Apportionment. SB 353 would prohibit the Indiana Election Commission from making election changes such as increasing or expanding the right to vote by absentee ballot. It also prohibits the governor from “changing, during a declared disaster emergency, the time, place, or manner of holding an election.” This bill is a direct result of the primary election when Gov. Eric Holcomb allowed Indiana citizens to vote by absentee ballot because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This “no-excuse” absentee vote-by-mail ballot made residents who wanted to vote but were nervous about this new pandemic feel safe in doing so.
However, Sen. Erin Houchin, R-District 47, the author of the bill, could care less.
A week ago, the Supreme Court began hearing two cases involving Arizona laws that restrict the right to vote. One case could end anti-discrimination with regard to race when voting.
None of this is about protecting the right to vote. It’s about protecting power. Republicans don’t want to lose the grip they know is slipping. The scramble to limit voters shows how desperate Republicans are to hold onto their power. I have a novel idea: Let’s make voting convenient and equitable and see who wins. Isn’t that how it’s supposed to be?