Fred Winn Democratic Party Essay Contest, third place: Exploring equality in our elections
by MADISEN BERRY, Ponderosa High School Student, El Dorado County
Voting has always been an integral aspect of the United States; it represents our democracy and freedom from the previous tyranny of past monarchies. Throughout the country’s brief history, one can see the ups and downs of voting rights, from the highs of women’s suffrage to the lows of the Three-Fifths Compromise. With all that has gone on surrounding voting rights in the United States, it remains a controversial topic. I whole-heartedly believe in equal voting rights. The ability for someone to vote should not be hindered by their ethnicity, social status, or race. That being said, some people still struggle to vote because of the systems put into place by the government. State governments have recently been changing their laws to make it easier, or harder, for some people to vote.
Voting rights have been changing dramatically in the past few years. In California, Governor Newsom signed legislation promising that mail-in ballots would be provided to every registered voter. This piece of legislation is important to equal voting rights because it allows for anyone to have readily-available access to an easy way to vote (California). If a person has a disability, they may not be able to get up and physically go to the polls. For minorities, it can also be hard to go to the polls and face adversity in such a public manner. I am a minority, and I often find it hard to advocate for myself in public settings because of the backlash it would cause.
I have not been able to vote yet, but I believe that this new system of giving mail-in voting ballots to everyone will make it easier for myself and others to vote freely. It is important for everyone to have a say in what goes on in elections because without that the United States would fail to be a democratic republic, and would fail in its mission to form governments “instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed” (Declaration).
Other states are also working towards voting rights expansion. Maryland residents have seen an option to request 2 mail-in ballots forever without having to request a ballot at every election (Kamarack). This increases the fairness of elections because it provides people the means to get their ballots reliably without having to remember extra steps. Elderly voters may not always remember to sign up for a mail-in ballot; this is making it possible for these members of the community to get their ballots without having to work through the maze of absentee voting.
As a busy person, some things fall through the cracks. Whether it be forgetting my water bottle or losing my phone 20 times a day, I can forget small things. Signing up to get an absentee ballot will be essential to me because I may not have time to go to the polls, and, if I forget to sign up for a mail-in vote option, then I may not even be able to vote at all. Many people have busy lives, and I relate to them all. Because of this progress, people who may not have had the time or resources to get mail-in ballots can now do so.
In Washington, voting rights have been extended to former felons after they are released from prison (O’Sullivan). Although felons could regain voting rights before this bill, they were often only allowed to vote after they had completed all terms of their sentence, which could take years if community service was involved. With this new bill, former felons can immediately rejoin society, hopefully creating an easier transition for them as well as giving a more accurate vote that represents the whole community. This seems small because felons do not often represent a huge number of the population, but it was estimated that about 2% of the population was disenfranchised in their voting rights and were convicted felons in 2020, which is over 5,000,000 people (Number). With this new bill in place, former felons will now be able to vote sooner. Not only will this increase the fairness of elections, but it will also create a healthier environment for those with felonies to become active members in their community, fostering a better society for all. These expansions are integral for our society. As time passes, 3 our society changes; these new voting resources will help the voting process stay in the present and not linger in the past.
While 25 states have passed bills that expand voting rights, at least 19 states have passed bills that restrict voting rights. In Texas, voting rights are becoming extremely limited with the new passing of a bill that revises many changes that were previously made to increase the ease of voting, including banning drive-thru voting, restricting voting times, creating new ID requirements for voters, and creating new rules for voter assistance (Ura). Although I do not live in Texas, I feel strongly that restricting voting is no way to run a state. The United States claims to protect the rights of the citizens, including the idea that “all men are created equal” (Declaration). This only further proves that restricting voting rights will violate the very grounds our country was built upon. These voting rights apply to everyone, but they do not affect everyone. These are indirectly targeting people who rely on mail-in voting, voting after work, and getting assistance from others to help with their own voting. Because of legislation like this, the advancement of voting is hindered.
Florida also enacted a law that similarly squashes voting rights, making registering to vote harder, creating fewer opportunities for people to vote, whether that be mail-in or in-person, and prohibiting people from providing snacks and drinks to voters (Sweren-Becker). Not only is this law infringing on voter-rights, it is just plain absurd. Not allowing people to give other people snacks and drinks has nothing to do with voting. If I wanted to give my friend a snack while we waited to vote in Florida or a number of other states, I could be fined. There is absolutely no reason for this law to be in effect, except to restrict voter-rights to achieve political goals. If a diabetic person waiting in line at a polling station suddenly passed out and was in need of a sugary snack, a person could potentially be fined for helping them in a 4 medical emergency, which makes no logical sense. The suppression of voting-rights is running rampant in our country, and it is pushing us backwards.
Out of the many new voting-rights laws and legislations that have been introduced into state governments, one thing is clear: there is a sharp divide in the beliefs of government officials. Some are working their hardest to create fair, equal elections, and others are working just as hard to suppress voters’ rights. Throughout my life, I have seen many ups and downs. As a young adult coming into the voting pool, I am concerned, but hopeful for the future. I look forward to voting and supporting my beliefs, and, with voting-rights expansion, my generation can uphold our country to its higher standards and “form a more perfect Union” (Constitution).