Fred Winn Democratic Party Essay Contest, second place: Promoting protection and solving suppression
by SUMMER DIXON, Oak Ridge High School Student, El Dorado County
Throughout history, it is evident that the ability to vote has significantly evolved to expand the political power of citizens. Classical Greece, the Roman Republic, the United States, universal white male suffrage, and the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments all illustrate this distinct global and domestic development.
However, recent elections and laws have introduced divisive debates regarding voter registration, absentee ballots, in-person voting, felony disenfranchisement, and many more controversial issues. People claim that state elections are headed in either one of two ways: loose, unregulated free-for-alls or strict, exclusive schemes. In reality, an enormous amount of gray area exists between these polar scenarios, which creates difficulty when delving into the countless nuances of new voting bills. Of the many changes to voting laws passed by state legislatures, those that protect the vote include automatic voter registration laws and California’s Assembly Bill 37, while those that suppress the vote include Texas’s Senate Bill 1 and Arizona’s laws that were upheld by the Supreme Court.
On one hand, there are numerous state laws that promote voter protection. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, in just 2021, “at least 25 states enacted 62 laws with provisions that expand voting access.” Various states have passed laws that facilitate mail-in ballots, extend ballot submission and vote-count deadlines, provide greater accessibility for disabled persons and non-English speakers, and work to eliminate felony disenfranchisement (“Voting Laws Roundup”). Now more than ever before, all American citizens, whether native-born or naturalized, can partake in state politics by voting on candidates and legislation. These laws undeniably protect the vote because they guarantee suffrage for everyone regardless of their work or school schedules, caretaking responsibilities, personal circumstances, cultural origins, or past wrongdoings.
More specifically, one key form of state legislation that protects the vote is 2 “automatic voter registration (AVR) laws.” Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Nevada, and New York have enacted AVR laws to ensure that all who are eligible to vote can immediately cast their ballots (“Voting Laws Roundup”). These laws represent not only voting protection but also voting facilitation because they encourage voters to mail in their ballots or visit a polling place without having to handle time-consuming and laborious paperwork.
When I turn 18, I would find security in knowing that I am automatically allowed to vote in upcoming elections, that my Constitutional right to vote is protected, and that my choices on the ballot matter. The other main voting law that expands voting rights is California’s Assembly Bill 37. It establishes all-mail voting, requires ballots be mailed to all registered voters, implements a ballot tracker accessible to disabled persons, allows voters to recast ballots, and extends the deadline for ballot receipt (“2021 Election Enactments”).
Prompted by Covid-19, mail-in voting protects the vote for people with medical conditions because they retain political participation in a safe and systematic manner. Mailing these ballots to all registered voters prevents suffrage from being limited to voters with access to transportation, childcare, and a flexible schedule. The ballot-tracking system assists disabled persons, who are often overlooked as they are believed to be capable of obtaining their own information and materials. Allowing voters to recast ballots provides a checking system to ensure every last vote is counted.
Lastly, extending the ballot receipt deadline presents voters with the luxury of time, an excellent way to respect their votes and personal lives. AB 37 is especially relevant to me because it was enacted by my home state. California’s large, diverse population benefits from AB 37 because voter turnout has never reflected a significant percentage of minorities. With easier and more inclusive access to voting resources, more Californians will not only be able to cast their votes, but now they will be motivated to do so
Despite the many voter protection laws passed by state legislatures, it should be noted that voter suppression laws are equally, if not more prevalent. The passage of restrictive voting laws has become a frequent and well-publicized occurrence within states: “at least 19 states enacted 33 laws that make it harder for Americans to vote” (“Voting Laws Roundup”). Several states have passed laws intended to achieve greater counting accuracy but inhibit voters from casting their ballots.
For instance, claims of the invalidity of President Biden’s 2020 election spurred Texas Governor Abbot to sign Senate Bill 1, which “Bans 24-hour” and “drive-thru voting,” introduces “New vote-by-mail ID mandates,” “Bans officials from mailing unsolicited mail-in ballot applications,” “Empowers poll watchers,” implements “New requirements for assisting voters,” and requires “Monthly voter roll checks” (Bradner). All of these restrictions certainly suppress the vote because they limit the times and means by which voters can cast their ballots, a form of inequity related to socioeconomic status. This legislation also protects the vote, though to a lesser extent, because registered voters’ ballots will presumably be counted fairly without interference from unregistered voters. These marginally protective measures cannot be counterbalanced by SB 1’s negative impacts on voting rights, as it deters a significant number of Texans from casting their ballots. It would be reasonable to expect voters to take responsibility for paperwork and deadlines, but SB 1 takes these constraints to a new level, demanding voters accommodate the system when the contrary should be reality.
A further instance of voter suppression in state legislature is “two Arizona laws restricting organizations’ ability to collect mail-in ballots as well as invalidating ballots cast in the wrong precinct” (Alas), which were recently brought into the public eye as the Supreme Court voted to uphold these laws in July 2021. The first law allows only a relative or caregiver to collect ballots; unions or advocacy organizations are barred from this as it is deemed “ballot harvesting” (Fritze). Even if 4 organizations use the most honest practices, it is a felony for them to collect ballots, which harms minorities who rely on this method of casting their votes. Some people claim that inconvenience does not mean unequal voting opportunities, but this law is an unnecessary form of indirect discrimination. Nevertheless, it can be conceded that this law is an effective way to prevent tampering with election results and likely will not affect too many people. In relation to the second law, preventing Arizonians from voting due to their inability to be physically present at the correct polling location is a clear form of voter suppression. Citizens should not be denied the right to vote, especially if they make the effort to submit their ballots in person and even if they fill out their ballots at home. Both the Texas and Arizona laws suppress the vote because they simply restrict citizens’ Constitutional right to check boxes on their ballots and witness their votes make a difference in their states.
In summary, voter protection is advanced by AVR laws and California’s AB 37, whereas voter suppression is perpetrated by Texas’s SB 1 and the Supreme Court’s decision to uphold Arizona’s laws. The media’s role in popularizing voting laws can be beneficial when used to promote progress and call for change, but overly pessimistic news articles can deprive soon-to-be voters like myself of hope for the future. We must first identify issues, then seek improvements, and finally implement solutions. Only then will our nation achieve total, fair, and inclusive protection of the precious right to vote.