Voting isn’t just a right; it’s a responsibility.
And the U.S. Supreme Court has made it clear how much more responsible we must all be if we want to preserve that right.
The court on Monday allowed the state of Ohio to purge its voter rolls of registered voters who fail to vote in one federal election and then who fail to respond to a single government notice asking them to confirm their current address.
Federal law prohibits the government from removing registered voters solely for not voting. But the Supreme Court found the government could purge a voter if it gets no response to a notification seeking confirmation of registration.
This is a major precedent down a slippery slope of voter suppression.
Ohio officials in the Republican-led state say the policy is designed to make the voter rolls more accurate, ensure that the rolls are up to date and to prevent election fraud.
But the actual effect of the policy, and others like it in other states, has been to purge the rolls of people most likely to vote Democratic.
A Reuters study found that the voter rolls from Democratic-leaning neighborhoods in Ohio were purged at roughly twice the rate of Republican neighborhoods, hitting a high proportion of poor and African-American residents the hardest. The discrimination is not just perceived; it’s real.
The responsibility for ensuring that New York residents don’t fall victim to these kinds of attempts at voter suppression falls both to state government and to individual citizens.
For the government, it’s imperative that lawmakers stop thwarting attempts to increase ballot access.
For whatever reason, New Yorkers don’t feel as compelled as others to vote. New York has among the lowest voter turnout in the country.
Whether that’s because voters don’t like the choices they’re facing, whether they’re frustrated at not being heard, or whether registering and voting in New York is too difficult or inconvenient to bother, the government has to take steps to address those issues.
It first needs to ensure that voters get the choices they desire by weakening the advantages of incumbency and removing impediments to qualified challengers. That means changing campaign finance laws to limit the ability of incumbents to secure an unfair advantage in visibility and financing of campaigns.
It might mean imposing term limits, limiting outside income to discourage people from making elected office a lifelong career, increasing legislative pay to encourage more candidates to run, or loosening petition rules and other restrictions that deter challengers.
Lawmakers also should make it easier and more convenient for people to register and vote, by significantly shortening registration deadlines, allowing more people to vote by absentee ballot through no-excuse absentees, allowing people to register electronically and on the same day as elections, expanding voting days and hours to give more people time to vote, and defeating unnecessary impediments to voting such as requiring voters to show photo identification.
But in keeping with our opening statement; voting is a responsibility.
People need to treat that responsibility more seriously than they do.
If voters want to maintain the right to vote, they should become educated about the issues and the candidates, and vote regularly.
When voters move, they need to update their registrations and re-enroll in their new location.
They must participate in get-out-the-vote efforts to ensure the poor and elderly can get to the polls.
Citizens also need to contact their elected representatives on a regular basis to fight for campaign finance reform and expanding voter access. If lawmakers don’t feel the pressure, they won’t act, and we might soon see laws pass in New York, similar to Ohio’s, that strip voters of their rights.
The more government tries to erode our right to vote, the more we must fight to keep it.
Voting isn’t a right we can accept passively. We must take responsibility.