Fred Winn Democratic Party Essay Contest, first place: A contaminated experiment
by KIÊN VU, Oak Ridge High School Student, El Dorado County
The Union is in peril — it always has been and must always be. The volatile nature that constitutes the foundation of the United States is what strengthens it. The unending struggles between the states and the federal government, among the states themselves and between sectional and national identity provide the catalyst with which America has been able to achieve global prominence. The democratic experiment proved to be, by most measures, a runaway success. The Revolutionary War gave birth to a country sturdy enough to grant its citizens significant liberties, with ample ability, though not necessarily abundant will, to facilitate social change — all inside a federal framework that has effective, though not dictatorial, power. However, that struggle has evolved beyond a healthy test of character and threatens to tear the country into two. The Union is in serious jeopardy, threatening democracy in America, and by extension, the very idea of democracy.
Various other measures have been taken to expand and protect the right to vote, such as the creation of extended periods of early in-person voting (Brennan), the restoration of voting rights to previously incarcerated people (Brennan) and the improvement of voting information for non-English speakers (Oregon). All of these enactments empower Americans who may otherwise not be able to exercise their rights, and who have historically faced oppression in this country: people of color, who are far more likely to have been incarcerated than their caucasian peers (National Institute), and impoverished people, particularly, benefit from these bills. These acts allow the true spirit of the American people to express itself in this country’s leadership, helping the nation to better serve the entirety of its people and also ensuring its continued legacy of progress and prosperity.
However, despite crucial strides for American liberties in some states, Republican state legislatures pass legislation that aims to weaken American access to the polls, reinforcing their own voting base and undermining opposition. The primary assault on the vote has come in limiting the opportunity for Americans to vote early, particularly by mail. Bills like Arkansas’s SB 643 shorten the deadline to deliver mail-in ballots (National Conference), while others, like Indiana’s SB 398, make it harder to submit them (National Conference). Among various related bills, these take brazen aim at undermining mail-in voting — given that 46% of all Americans, including 58% of Biden’s supporters (Pew), voted by mail in 2020, any backwards movement on the availability of this form of voting is an attempt to sequester the voice of the people.
And while some states chip away at the right to vote, America’s most populous states pass comprehensive reform legislation that constitute abhorrent affronts to democracy. Texas enacted HB 3920, which prohibits voters from requesting absentee ballots for lack of adequate transportation, poor health, or for being unable to take time off of work (National Conference). In Florida, SB 90: makes it harder for voters to receive needed assistance; makes it harder to cast and obtain mail-in ballots; criminalizes officials for providing more drop boxes than the meager amounts permitted; and invalidates previous vote-by-mail requests (National Conference). It is difficult to understate the logic of these bills, but they reflect the polluted state of democracy in America. What democracy punishes citizens for being human and living human lives? What democracy tries to complicate and obscure voting information? What democracy criminalizes officials for carrying out their duties to their fullest capacities? A plagued democracy, that’s who. These bills cannot in good faith be said to defend any sort of security. They are blatant acts of voter suppression. With independent commissions having concluded that no widespread voting fraud occurred (Fortune), it is indisputably clear that these efforts are thinly veiled attempts to consolidate power.
I have firsthand experience with our elections systems. I helped run the 2021 recall election in California, a state often said to be a bastion of democracy within the US. Even here, I saw many insufficiencies — we were inadequately staffed, chronically undersupplied and relied heavily on outdated equipment. Our sole ballot printer, of which we were supposed to have at least two, broke several times, compounding delays and extending lines we were unable to shake the entire day. Only the knowhow of a fellow teenage elections worker kept the printer functional and the polling center active. Aware of distrust in the elections system, I did my best to clearly explain every step I was taking to get citizens their ballots — still, I got many sour looks and faced frustration for representing what some citizens see as unreliable institutions. Many came simply to confirm that no one had voted in their name — a consequence of the vicious lies told by the former president.
Not all is lost. Citizens across the country see the legislation being penned into law and refuse to remain quiet. In a healthy democracy, all people are given equal rights and an equal vote, and anything less than that requires remedying. It is up to us, the citizens of the free world, to ensure that laws that suppress the vote become nothing more than a section in a history book. We must invest in our elections systems and restore faith in the integrity of American democracy. We must stand up to politicians that toy with fundamental aspects of American identity for their own agendas. We must confront this barrage on democracy to make certain the experiment goes on, to reinvigorate the notion that overthrew British control of the colonies — the notion being that government of the people, by the people, for the people, is the best kind of government known to mankind.
Brennan Center for Justice. 4 Oct. 2021, brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/voting-laws-roundup-october-2021. Accessed 10 Feb. 2022.
Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “United States presidential election of 2020.” Encyclopedia Britannica, 27 Oct. 2021, britannica.com/event/United-States-presidential-election-of-2020. Accessed 10 February 2022.
Fortune. fortune.com/2021/12/14/trump-voter-fraud-investigation-biden-battleground-states-only-475-potential-voter-fraud-cases/. Accessed 14 Dec. 2021.
National Conference of State Legislatures. 5 Jan. 2022, ncsl.org/research/elections-and-campaigns/2021-election-enactments.aspx. Accessed 10 Feb. 2022.
National Institute of Justice. nij.ojp.gov/media/image/19511. Accessed 10 Feb. 2022.
Oregon State, Legislative Assembly, Assembly. Assembly Bill 3021 (enacted), Oregon Legislature.