On September 11, members of the League spent a few hours fulfilling a key component of our mission – helping new citizens register to vote following the annual Naturalization Ceremony at the State House. It was, both, moving and inspiring to witness the culmination of the journey from immigrant to U.S. citizen.
As I walked to the Secretary of State’s office to pick registration forms, the question running through my mind was why are some of us so casual about voting and why do we abstain from it? In the last election, 80 million eligible Americans did not vote. Reasons for not voting are plentiful – protest, distrust, jury duty, conflicting schedules, forgetfulness, apathy. It suddenly occurred to me that, in this country, we citizens have the luxury to take our right to vote for granted.
The United States has a troubled history of voter suppression. In the 21st century, under the pretext of tackling voter fraud and irregularities, voting rights have been under constant assault. Restrictions enacted include strict photo identification laws, proof of citizenship, purging voter rolls, cutting back on early voting, reducing the number of polling sites, and changing polling hours. Other obstacles are felon disenfranchisement, eliminating same day voter registration, intimidation at the polls, long waiting lines, and gerrymandering. Justice Department statistics show voter fraud is extremely rare: 86 convictions out of 300,000,000 votes. Yet 21 states, including New Hampshire and Rhode Island, have passed restrictive voting laws. Vermont enjoys a stellar reputation on voting rights.
In May 2017, President Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to study the registration and voting processes and promote fair and honest federal elections. The Commission purports a dishonest narrative that undermines our elections by spreading falsehoods about our election system. At the League, we find the Commission a sham and an unnecessary distraction. The real problems with our electoral system are suppressive laws that prevent eligible voters from access to the ballot and money in politics.
We must be vigilant about actions taken to undermine public confidence in the integrity of federal elections. All eligible voters must have the opportunity to exercise their civic duty. Let us not take our right to vote lightly. Voting brings us together as Americans – it is the one time when we are all equal.