From the beginning of the United States of America’s democracy, voting has been a controversial topic, and laws concerning it have continued to change. Originally reserved to only landowners, the first years of the country were determined by primarily white protestants over the age of 21. After the U.S. Constitution was created, the playing field changed, placing who could vote in the hands of the states. It was not until nearly a century later that the requirement of being a landowner was lifted, although the requirement was not written.
Still the barriers of ethnicity, culture and gender stood in the way of many of our nation’s population voting rights. Through years of fighting, rallies, and marches, finally the voting privilege broke through those walls. Even though the laws changed, the people refused. It took serious social change, the addition of ballots in other languages, removal of poll taxes and even the lowering of the voting age to 18 to extend this right to the majority of the US population.
Today the debate over criminal charges, identification laws, and so much more decide how much of our nation remains restricted from voting.
Despite relieving limitations to voting rights, according to the University of Texas at Austin, the state ranks 44th out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia in voter registration, and it ranked 47th out of 51 for turnout during the 2016 election (UT News, 2018). One might ask how this could possibly be, but the answer lies partly in the laws and mostly in the people.
Lots of people find no motivation to vote as it is an inconvenient time for many during work or school, a strong feeling of one’s vote not changing the result, and even a total distrust of politicians. When voting becomes choosing a lesser of two evils, and more work than its worth, why come? Being a newly registered voter, all of these thoughts ran through my head.
I had not followed the candidates closely enough to sift through to the truth and voting randomly might leave me on the side of regret after the candidate was put into office. After my federal government course, I felt it important to actually go out and vote. I left two hours before school started, driving nearly twenty minutes to a church just outside my town. After standing in a line for half an hour, election officials finally revealed the power cord they had could not support the booths. Despite the fact providing proper voting equipment is necessary and vital to US Constitution’s right to vote. Frustrated, I had to drive almost half an hour further into the next town over, waiting forever for a process I really didn’t care about. After an experience like that, I will struggle to find the motivation to vote again next year – which I think is what a lot of people can say. Registering wasn’t the hard part, actually voting was.
The government has tried to alleviate these issues adding methods to encourage voter turnout. These methods include early, no-excuse absentee, and vote-at-home voting centers (places outside the county office such as Churches that are closer to home. Investment in voter encouragement, outreach, and education has attempted to avoid alienation and inspire people to vote, and yet voter turnout remains extremely low. To fix this in the short term, the best method to increase voter turnout is to take advantage of the media platforms current voters are on. Social media took voting to the next level by people posting pictures with their I Voted Sticker. Move that trend forward creating hashtags and photo challenges for election day as to encourage others to share the information about voting centers and times. In the long term, creating an easy-access governmental website where candidates can post fact sheets about themselves, their goals and their policies written by them could inspire a generation of technological dependent users to get honest a true information about who they are voting for.
With the addition of capabilities like a search box where users can search issues and find candidates who take a similar stance as they do on their make or break topics, we could increase the number of people who understand the politicians, are educated on their policy choices, and feel they have stake in the election. Beyond that, make voting time efficient. Open multiple voting centers for early voting on the Saturday before election day or create a system to do online appointments to vote. Add pictures to the online ballot, because lots of people remember faces more than names. To break through the walls that separated who could vote, it took serious change. The same level of adaptation is needed to get eligible voters to use their voice.
Everyone agrees that voter turnout is a problem, but it lies in the hands of the lawmakers to decide if change is possible. There is a strong opinion that lawmakers are stuck in their ways and refuse to make voting easy. Except when lawmakers begin to change things, people simply focus on the negatives not the change. Take voter identification laws. In Texas the laws are ranked as moderate meaning a Photo ID is requested, but if someone does not hold and cannot obtain one, they can present an approved supporting form of ID and fill out a Reasonable Impediment Declaration. The pros and cons of voter identification laws have been voiced loud and clear. I believe everyone agrees that preventing fraud is important, yet they have not compromised on a middle ground. The side for voter identification has shown how presenting a photo ID can keep the right to vote to American citizens and prevent the lessening of a true vote by a fraudulent one. The side against them argue that the laws in place are discriminatory, lower voter turnout, and prevent a problem that is not as imminent of a danger as they want the public to believe.
The Washington Post found 31 credible instances of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than 1 billion ballots cast (Levitt, 2014). With these numbers, the likeliness of Americans impersonating each other is extremely low. The voter identification laws are in place to protect the people and are valid. They could use some amendment. For example, my student ID is one form of identification I am required to always have on me. At most public high schools, entering campus without one can earn some heavy detention. Everyone in my area who attends the public or even the private schools have one issued by the school itself. Public schools are a governmental institution, funded and regulated by the officials, meaning they should be a recognized form of government ID. If students can spend governmental dollars getting an education designed by the government, then they should be able to vote with the ID the school gives them. This reasoning should apply to not only high schools but colleges as well.
After deep arguments like the ones surrounding voter identification laws, any person would be hesitant to change the law. Yet, lawmakers choose to become law makers and changers for a reason. Circling back to the most important question facing this topic, are lawmakers truly ready to make the leap and change the laws to increase voter turnout? In 2016, Secretary of State Carlos Cascos said it herself, “We’re not Number 1 in football and we’re not Number 1 in voting. So we need to change that” (Levine, 2018). Since then, nearly 500 pieces of legislation related to voting have been enacted all over the nation. In Texas, laws such as HB 1151 (absentee and early voting), HB 658 (disabled voters) and SB 5 (voter identification) have reformed voting (Underhill, 2018). I believe that legislation shows lawmakers are ready for change, just maybe not the change we expect. By taking the job of a lawmaker, they are expected to better our state and our nation, but they have to look at and assess all sides of an issue. Laws that ensure voting keeps up with the times, also have to protect voting from the increasing threats of our time. There is no guarantee that the solutions mentioned earlier would truly solve our problem, because of the delay inaction by the government. It takes time to create laws, to get enough people to agree to pass them, and to put them in use. There’s no guarantee that in that time, the problems of this world would have already changed, and the solutions rendered useless. Despite that, lawmakers still must make every attempt to improve our voter turnout no matter the time it takes to do so.
Overall voting has been an honor for Americans since 1776, while at the same time being one of the largest struggles for our democratic government. Year after year the country broke through discriminatory barriers and hardships that come with voting, making every effort to fulfill the idea of all people being equal and worthy. Still, voting remains a privilege without its prestige, as the growing generations hold less and less importance on election day and its purpose. A feeling that comes not only from it being a difficult process during an inconvenient time on a decision many feel they have no stake in. Such a problem can only be fixed by the unified effort from both lawmakers and the people.