Breaking The Ballot - Part Two
Voter disenfranchisement is one of the largest unaddressed civic issues of our time. In Breaking the Ballot: Part 1, we explored the many forms of voter suppression, ranging from felony disenfranchisement(blocking former felony offenders from voting) to signature matching and Voter ID laws. But a question remains: now that we know about the problem, what is the best way to go about stopping these civic injustices from happening again, especially in the upcoming 2020 Presidential election?
However, before going any further, one thing must be made clear: we must push for federal voter protection laws to be passed with priority over urging specific state laws. This is because if we try to pass only state laws(or overemphasize the urgency of the need for state laws over federal laws on the topic), any progress that is made will be comparatively incremental at best, considering that each state makes up only two percent of the union, which means that there would need to be fifty separate laws passed in order to protect each citizen’s right to a fair and freely accessible democracy. However, if the focus is instead on passing one federal law, the united power of the will of the American people may be enough to successfully push for ballot equity.
There are two laws in the House and Senate which may solve the issue of felony disenfranchisement at the time of the writing of this article(H.R 1 and S.1068). To address the fact that the United States is the “only Western democracy that permits the permanent denial of voting rights for individuals with felony convictions”(Source), the laws dually mandate that “The right of an individual ...to vote in any election… shall not be denied or abridged because that individual has been convicted of a criminal offense unless such individual is [currently] serving a felony sentence...at the time of the election”(Source). While not completely solving the issue(due to it’s barring of a remnant 2.2 million adults who are currently in prison from voting(Source)), it does permit 3.9 million former convicts to vote who can not at the time of this article.
H.R 1 also works to mitigate the effects of unfair and unjust signature matching laws. The proposed law requires for the notification of all absentee balloters whose vote has been cast out due to inconsistencies in their signature on the ballot and on the State’s official list of registered voters. In addition, the bill also ensures that if a vote is rejected on election day, the rejected ballot must be checked by two election officials who are trained in how to verify signatures(Source). More than that, the bill also acknowledges the problem of Voter ID laws in its Findings section and works to eradicate this harmful “solution without a problem”(Source) by allowing for the use of a “sworn written statement” as proof of identification for both absentee and same-day voters.
Since the publication of Part One of this series and the writing of this article, 34,560 people have been arrested for drug policy violations in the United States(Source), and have effectively lost their right to a free and fair election. Unless our election policies change, these people, as well as countless everyday citizens who have not broken the law, will not be counted in our upcoming 2020 election. We must pass H.R 1 as well as S.1086 to protect what remains of our democracy. Otherwise, we can no longer call ourselves a true democracy at all.