As we begin ramping up for yet another round of local, statewide and national elections, I will use this forum to address community engagement.
When we began on our first Indicators Report in the late 1990s, the percentage of the adult population that votes was quickly identified as a key measure. We assumed – correctly, I think – that a high level of participation in elections is desirable for a community. It was an easy decision.
Since then, however, we've witnessed a growing assault on the right to vote. A variety of ostensibly legal techniques are now being used across the country to suppress the vote in urban communities.
The strategies employed include onerous restrictions on voter registration drives, identification requirements with which some citizens can’t easily comply, fewer opportunities to vote, the purging of voter rolls, and the inadequate equipping and manning of certain precincts.
The justification given for these restrictions may sound reasonable on the surface. “We need to prevent vote fraud!” There has been no credible evidence of systematic election fraud, however.
Don’t take my word for it. James A. Baker III, Ronald Reagan’s chief of staff who later served both as secretary of the treasury and secretary of state, came to the same conclusion in a report issued by a bipartisan commission he co-chaired with Jimmy Carter.
And some political operatives on the right have been sufficiently emboldened to admit the real objective of these measures is the suppression of minority votes. The claim that massive voter fraud is taking place is a fig leaf, a canard, a lie.
When we talk about those who've made the ultimate sacrifice for this country, we often note they died for our freedom. At its heart, this freedom involves the right to participate in decisions that impact our shared lives together. All of us. And that’s what pushes these voter suppression strategies beyond the pale. That’s what makes them profoundly un-American.
I have been amazed at how little outcry there has been on this issue. And yet there is no right more sacred in our historical development as a people. Where’s the outrage?
How do we reverse this trend? For now, at least, the power is in our hands. Make the suppression of voting rights a disqualifying factor when you cast your next ballot. And support candidates who want to make it easier for all of us to participate as fully engaged citizens.