By Dan Mikel
Do you remember the first time you voted for President? How old were you? Where were you living? How did you get to the polls?
In talking with high school students during my 35-year teaching career, they were always surprised when I told them I was 24 years old before I could vote for President. In that past time -when I was young- the standard in most states was age 21. I just missed the 1960 election, so I could not vote until 1964.
I was very thrilled to exercise my right to vote that first time as one of “the blessings of liberty” and have continued to exercise the right to vote in every election since.
The phrase “the blessings of liberty” stems from the Preamble to the Constitution. Voting is uppermost in my mind as a blessing, but so is having union membership, accessing health care, worshiping as one pleases (or not at all), marrying whomever you love (if you so choose) and growing old with dignity.
With deep regret, I have noticed in recent years that the right to vote is being challenged and even suppressed by individuals and groups who are apparently fearful of the results of millions of people voting. Even the U.S. Supreme Court cut the heart out of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in a 2013 decision.
There are numerous ways that people are being discouraged or even blocked from voting across our nation.
Reduced numbers of voting machines or inadequate numbers of ballots to meet demand result in long lines and unreasonable waits to vote. Even hours! Are we surprised that lack of appropriate voting material or machines occurs primarily in precincts with high numbers of people of lower economic standing or with high numbers of people of color? Imagine how long a single parent can stand in line with a restless young child. Imagine how long an elderly person will stand in line on a concrete sidewalk—back, hips and knees hurting-- waiting to cast a ballot.
Other tactics are used to suppress voting. Reduced numbers of polling locations make it difficult to get to a location easily. And that is not an uncommon ploy. Public or private transportation is not necessarily easy to arrange. In states that have photo I.D. requirements to vote, there is evidence that those same states closed motor vehicle/licensing stations, making it more difficult for citizens to obtain photo I.D.
What about all those disgusting TV ads in campaign season, with their grainy pictures of opposition candidates, and slanders and slurs that are repeated over and over again? Some people are turned off by those ads and get mad at all sides and then do not vote. That’s part of voter suppression.
Frequent comments by so-called leaders charging wide-spread voter fraud likewise cause people to wonder if it is worth the time to cast a ballot. There is no supporting evidence that voting fraud has been common in the past, occurred in the 2016 presidential elections or will rise in the 2020 election, despite dire predictions from some.
FEDERAL ACTION. If you google the BRENNAN CENTER FOR JUSTICE, you will find numerous articles and comments pertaining to voter suppression. The Brennan Center also summarizes the contents of the “For the People Act” which calls on us to
“modernize our voting system, reform campaign finances laws, curb partisan
gerrymandering, and restore voting rights to people with criminal convictions.”
The companion bill in the Democratic House of Representatives has already passed by a vote of 234-193 on a straight party-line vote. Republican leadership in the Senate has already indicated a vote on the bill will not be allowed. Voter suppression!
STATE ACTION. The federal government has authorized $6.6 million of funding for Minnesota in the complex high-tech area of “cyber-security.” The federal government recognizes that Minnesota’s election system is one of the twenty-one states that has been targeted by the Russian government. Senate Republicans in Minnesotans led by former Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer are only supporting $1.5 million of protection. The federal money is there for our protection, but there is no unified response from Minnesota’s lawmakers. We need to protect our voting system to the fullest extent possible.
We need to ensure that not only our children, but our grandchildren and even our great-grandchildren have the same sacred right to vote that we have enjoyed.
Our Constitution is correct. We are entitled to the “blessings of liberty.” Voting is foremost among the blessings. Elections have consequences. We need to be ever vigilant and must protect and promote voting.