On election day, some questions for reflection
We’ve arrived at Election Day 2013, though it’s been a busy last few months on the voting front. We reported in our magazine this summer about changes to voting laws that were having the effect of keeping some people, such as racial minorities and the elderly, away from the polls.
Right around the time our article was published—and just before the 50th anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington—the Supreme Court struck down part of the Voting Rights Act, which had required jurisdictions with a history of discrimination to obtain "preclearance" from the federal government before making any changes to voting procedures. This was a decision the bishops did not agree with, they told everyone after the decision was announced.
A few weeks ago we called attention to the story of a judge in Texas who ran into some trouble trying to cast her vote, because her identification listed her maiden name as her middle name. Another story from Texas surfaced this weekend that former House Speaker Jim Wright of Texas was also denied a voter ID card. The 90-year-old realized just before attempting to receive a voter ID card that his expired driver’s license and faculty ID would not be sufficient under Texas’s new laws to grant him the ID he would need to vote, but he tried and was denied. Fortunately, Wright’s assistant helped him obtain copy of his birth certificate, which will help meet the requirement to receive a photo ID that will allow him to vote in today’s elections.
Wright himself, during his long political career, was among those who worked hard to make voting easier. “From my youth I have tried to expand the elections,” Wright said. “I pushed to abolish the poll tax. I was the first to come out for lowering the voting age to 18. I earnestly hope these unduly stringent requirements on voters won’t dramatically reduce the number of people who vote. I think they will reduce the number to some extent.”
There’s no presidential election this year, but individual votes tend to count for more in local elections, where voter turnout tends to be lower, and the effects of the election are felt more acutely and immediately by the voters. If you do head to the polls today, take a minute to stop and reflect on how you got there. Are you a woman? Don’t own any property? African American? Newly turned 18? Consider the centuries of progress that paved the way for you to cast a vote at all. Or, more literally, think about how you got there: Were you able to vote at your convenience without missing any work? Did you walk, drive, or take the bus to your polling place? If your local government required it, were you able to show proper ID? How might the process have been different for you if you were without an income, or working long hours, or without a permanent address?
According to the bishops, responsible citizenship is a virtue and participation in political life is a moral obligation. Hopefully the structures that we set up to enable voting--that fundamental principle of democracy--will reflect responsibility and morals, as well.