Like many others across America, I exercised my right as a citizen to vote. Also like many, I did not do this on Election Day, but rather participated as an early voter. I walked to City Hall, with what I thought was everything I needed. My student ID, and another government-issued ID. Turns out, registering to vote also requires a ‘proof of address.’ Thankfully the workers at the polls were able to figure out a way around this, and I was able to vote. This only happened because Minnesota is a state that allows same-day voter registration.
Fewer than half of states allow this. After filing three different forms, I finally received my ballot. With more than ten races to settle, each with their own characteristics, filling them out took special attention. I had heard numerous stories of people talking about ballots becoming invalidated because of mundane reasons. I was insistent on filling everything correctly. All in all, excluding the wait in line, the process took more than 30 minutes. As a dual citizen, I can’t help but compare this with the process that takes place in my home country. Every citizen is automatically registered when they get their first government-issued ID. After this, each citizen can simply walk into their precinct, present their ID and receive a ballot. Your ‘registration’ status is irrelevant. Every step enacted to make voting and registration harder is a step towards suppression and away from democracy.
Around election season, stories abounded of counties with slow precincts, or too few polling stations for the area’s residents. Between 2012 and 2018, Texas closed down 542 polling stations in areas with high Black and Latine populations. Regardless of where it happens, closing down sites is the opposite of what we should be striving for, much less so in communities that already have struggling turnouts.
Another sign of voter suppression, widely discussed during this election, is that many states still do not allow all citizens to request voting by mail. Every citizen should be eligible to vote by mail should they choose to, for whatever reason they see valid, provided they’re a resident of the state.
By extending the voting window, we further reduce the odds of someone simply not finding the time to go to the polls on Election Day.
Another way in which the U.S. government obstructs democracy is by holding elections on Tuesdays. Many Americans work 9 to 5 jobs; many work for even longer.
With the already low amount of polling places, the driving time might just be too long.
The fact that Election Day is not a federal holiday benefits the most privileged, who are the ones that have a flexible schedule or job that allows them time to vote.
This leaves the most marginalized to figure out themselves how they could inject their opinion into a system that already suppresses them.
Speaking of the marginalized, in 32 states, felons lose their right to vote because of their past incarceration. In 16 other states, they lose their vote while incarcerated. This means that in 48 states, American citizens are being plainly robbed of their voting rights.
Regardless of incarceration status, all Americans should have the right to choose a commander-in-chief.
This is not the only example of American citizens not having voting rights, however. Americans from Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, the Northern Mariana Islands and the Virgin Islands not only can’t vote for president, but also have no representation in Congress.
That is almost 3.2 million citizens who have no say in the choice of the leader that will ultimately affect them just as much as it would affect someone in Fargo, North Dakota.
None of these are examples of flaws of the American system. They’re features. Certain groups benefit from the participation of only a select few in democracy.
But at that point, it stops being a democracy and a ruling class arises. The affected cannot hold those in charge accountable, if the people are not allowed to participate.
When every single American citizen can vote, regardless of location, incarceration status or social class, that will be American democracy’s strongest point in history.