July 18, 2024

Fundamental right to vote being infringed upon

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BY  SEN. TINA SMITH, D-Minnesota

Voting is a point of pride, and it’s a big responsibility. But more than anything, it’s a right — the most fundamental right in any democracy. 

Hundreds of thousands of Minnesotans exercised that right in the latest primary.  Minnesotans are right to be proud of their consistently impressive voter turnout; in fact, for the last two national elections, Minnesota has had the highest rate of voter turnout in the country. The reason is simple: through efforts like early voting and same-day voter registration, we’ve made voting easier. And when voting is easier, more people show up. More people are heard.

It’s unconscionable, then, that across the country, powerful special interests – like the lobbies for the pharmaceutical industry, fossil fuels, and tobacco – are working with their political allies to make voting harder, and undermining our right to be heard.  

In Georgia, voters can be purged from the voter rolls, even if the information on their voter registration form is accurate but isn’t an “exact match” to other government records. This means that something as innocuous as a missing hyphen or middle initial could prevent people from exercising their constitutional right.  In Ohio, voters can effectively lose their right to vote in an election simply because they didn’t vote in the last two elections. And just before the 2018 election, in North Dakota, some Native Americans living on reservations discovered that even if they were regular voters with valid identification, that due to a new state law they would need new IDs with additional information in order to cast their votes. 

Even in Minnesota, Republicans in the State Senate have again introduced legislation that would require photo identification to vote, despite the fact that Minnesotans resoundingly rejected this proposal as a constitutional amendment in 2012.  Thankfully this legislation has virtually no chance of passing, and we have a governor who would never sign a bill that is designed to silence voters of color as well as senior and student voters. 

But that’s not the case in every state. No matter where they live, Americans deserve the same protections at the ballot box. This is, after all, the greatest democracy in the world.

One year ago, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, which would protect the right to vote and expand it nationwide. This landmark legislation would make voting easier, by naming Election Day a federal holiday and making automatic, online, and same day voter registration available in every state. It would make voting more accessible by allowing early voting and voting by mail in every state.  And it would also make voting more fair by limiting efforts to purge voting rolls and strengthening protections against discrimination and intimidation at the ballot box. 

Still, we can only ensure voters are being heard if their voices aren’t drowned out by special interests. To that end, H.R. 1 would reform our campaign finance laws by requiring Super PACs and other purveyors of dark money to disclose their donors. Since the Citizens United v Federal Election Commission decision, special interests have doubled down in their efforts to buy influence in our elections and on Capitol Hill. In the two decades before Citizens United, outside interest groups spent a total of about $750 million on federal elections. In the single decade since, those groups have spent $4.5 billion. 

In fact, that’s the very reason H.R. 1 has not come up for a vote in the U.S. Senate. Special interests want it to stay right where it is — on the desk of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. And Leader McConnell answers to them, not to the American people. 

Ultimately, this is a battle over who holds power in our democracy. I believe the power should lie with us: the people. At a time when some would take that power away from people, the people can no longer take the right to vote for granted.

The drive to bring H.R. 1 up for a vote is no different than the one that brings American voters to the polls. It’s born of the belief that it’s up to us to shape this nation and define its future. In other words, democracy takes work. And under these circumstances, it takes extra work. 

I’m going to keep calling on Leader McConnell to bring H.R. 1 to the Senate floor, because our democracy is worth every effort. And if he does, I’ll do what Minnesotans do best — I’ll turn out and vote for it.

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