I have written this piece for the New York Times Sunday Review (part of their “The America We Need” series on inequality). It begins:
What if we made voting an agent of equality, not inequality? And how can we get there?
If you are a college student or a working recent high school graduate, poor, Latino, or someone who moves more frequently, you are less likely to vote. Seniors are much more likely to vote than young people, in some elections at twice their rate. Those with college degrees vote in higher numbers than the less educated. Minority voters are more likely to wait longer in line to vote in person, sometimes for hours, and they, young people, and first-time voters are more likely to have an absentee ballot rejected for nonconformity with technical rules. Poor voters are less likely to have the time off work to vote at all, much less wait in a long line to vote. Voters in big cities, who tend to be younger, poorer and browner, have coped with more serious election problems than others in voting in person and by mail during our coronavirus-laden primary season, like the voters in Milwaukee voters who saw 175 out of 180 polling places closed during the April 7 Wisconsin primaries.
In a democratic system, we expect our elected officials to be responsive to the views and interests of the voters. If the universe of voters — and, of course, campaign donors — is skewed toward older, wealthier, better educated whiter voters, political decisions will be as well. We need equality in voting rights and turnout to assure responsive representation and social policy that reflects everyone’s needs, not just those most likely to turn out with their votes and dollars….
Beyond triage for 2020, longer term change requires bolder thinking. We need a new social movement, that may take a generation or more, pushing a constitutional amendment protecting the right to vote. It would guarantee all adult citizens the right to vote in federal elections, establish a nonpartisan administrative body to run federal elections that would automatically register all eligible voters to vote, and impose basic standards of voting access and competency for state and local elections.
Talking of a constitutional amendment in the current polarized atmosphere may sound like a pipe dream when Congress cannot pass even basic voting rights protections, like restoring the part of the Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court destroyed. But the current situation is untenable.
We need a 28th Amendment for voter equality around which people can organize and agitate. Organization could emulate the battle for passage of the 19th Amendment, which bars gender discrimination in voting. It took more than generation for that amendment to pass, and along the way activists for equal women’s suffrage got state legislatures to bolster voting rights and the public to change its attitudes about voting.
It has been 100 years since passage of the 19th Amendment and 150 since the passage of the 15th Amendment barring racial discrimination in voting. Despite those accomplishments, every national election features endless angst and litigation over assuring people the right to vote, which puts special burdens on those who already face the greatest barriers. We need to bring that struggle to an end and press forward toward a new voting rights amendment that would assure that our representatives truly reflect the will of the people.