Issue: The United States is an exceptionally diverse country with a system of government that creates the potential for a vibrant democracy and civil society. Unfortunately, we were also founded by property owning white men who felt that they should be the only class of humans granted citizenship and enfranchised with the right to vote. Fortunately, a long succession of bold progressive leaders have chipped away at barrier after barrier in the years since our democracy was founded, making it more inclusive and representative of the diverse experiences of all Americans.
However, with increasingly negative political campaigns designed to discourage instead of inspire voters, our politics have veered off in a dangerous direction in recent years. Republicans in numerous states have resorted to restricting voting rights for already underrepresented communities to maintain power. This trend culminated in 2013 with the Supreme Court’s gutting of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, which forced states with a history of denying voting rights to minorities to clear any new policies with the Department of Justice and opened the floodgates for a succession of state legislatures to purge their voter rolls through a variety of discriminatory practices.
Proposal: There are several common sense steps Congress could take tomorrow if they were committed to increasing voter turnout and political participation. First, election day should be a national holiday during which all employees must at least be given as much time off work as necessary to vote. Second, Congress should follow the lead of the ten states that have passed automatic voter registration and make registration automatic nationwide. Finally, Congress must pass an updated version of the Voting Rights Act that restores section five using a new coverage formula and prohibits infringement of an individual’s right to vote based on their race, gender, sexuality, or spoken language.