Editorial: The Fight for Voting Rights Has Just Begun

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As is well known, the 2012 election saw a national drive to restrict the ability to vote. Citizens fought back. By Election Day, almost every harsh new law was blocked, blunted, postponed, or repealed.

Count that a true win for democracy. But let’s not be satisfied with just winning defensive fights. Instead, we should seize this moment of public attention to press for breakthrough reforms to assure that all eligible citizens can vote in elections that are free and fair.

Make no mistake: If the Florida 2000 recount was a car crash, last year was an unsettling near miss. Partisans passed voting restrictions in 19 states. Hardest hit: poor, minority, young and elderly voters. (The Brennan Center calculated that these restrictions could make it far harder for at least five million eligible citizens to vote. In the end, President Obama’s victory margin proved to be…five million. Hmmm.) In the end, relatively few saw their rights directly deprived. But the fracas revealed underlying problems with our ramshackle voting system. Long lines were the visible symptom.

Make no mistake: If the Florida 2000 recount was a car crash, last year was an unsettling near miss.

Now GOP-led states are moving forward with new restrictive rules. For example, Virginia just passed a harsh voter-ID law. North Carolina is moving forward with an array of new anti-voter rules. And the U.S. Supreme Court is poised to rule on two key cases, and may even gut the Voting Rights Act.

Still there are glimmers of new political hope. The risk of disenfranchisement actually spurred higher turnout among minority voters. President Obama repeatedly has called for an end to long lines and supported voting reform. Some politicians are listening. In Florida, the same lawmakers who curbed early voting are doing backflips to expand it.

All good. Now let’s make meaningful changes for the long term.

We should start with a national mandate to modernize voter registration, a paradigm shift that would use digital technology to enroll all eligible citizens. That would add 50 million to the rolls…cost less…and curb fraud risks.

We should enact minimum national standards, too, to assure adequate in person early voting and election administration.

Most important: political will. It’s up to all of us to continue to demand action, now, for stronger democracy. Let’s insist: if we want to solve our problems, we must fix our systems.

 

Michael Waldman is the president of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.