Many of us come to Washington state from someplace else. I came from a state with two-hour lines at the polls during presidential elections, with limited and inaccessible locations for early voting, and where the secretary of state appeared to encourage voting for some and discourage it for others.
In Washington state, I found a paper ballot voting system, a secretary of state dedicated to all voters receiving ballots (including the military serving overseas) and state legislation encouraging voter registration. I joined the League of Women Voters Spokane (LWVSA) to reach future voters with the message that voting is a right and a responsibility for all American citizens, and that Washington residents benefit from a voting system allowing them to exercise that right.
The federal legislation, For the People Act, would provide the resources and a mandate that all states create and sustain systems empowering voters to exercise their voting rights. Through this legislation, states would modernize voter registration systems, strengthen election security, and end gerrymandering.
Why is this vigilance about voting so important? As American citizens, our democracy is the legacy we leave to future voters. Locally, our League presents on the importance of voting to high school seniors. This past year, we presented “voting is important, and your vote counts” to almost 2,000 students who would be eligible to vote in upcoming primaries or general elections.
It is during these presentations that we describe how hard-fought voting rights have been for excluded groups of American citizens – starting with colonists fighting for their right to representation culminating in the American Revolution, to civil rights activists demanding the overturn of African Americans having to pay to vote (poll tax), to women taking to the streets in a 72-year battle for voting rights, to 18-year-olds questioning why they could be drafted, but not allowed to vote until they were 21.
As these high school seniors go into the world, off to college, to the military, and to their first “real” jobs, we encourage them to make a habit of voting. It is for these future voters that the For the People Act holds such promise. These graduates may eventually settle in states with very different election systems from Washington state.
The League of Women Voters believes all eligible citizens should be able to vote in a district that is not contrived to benefit one party over another (gerrymandering) or to vote in systems susceptible to electronic hacking (election security), or for candidates and public servants whose success depends not on allegiance to constituents and their concerns but to the interests of those who give the most money to them or to their campaigns (campaign financing and ethics).
For the People Act is hardly radical legislation. It affirms what we should expect in a democracy: access to voting; access to voting systems that work; creation of voting districts that benefit all voters, not political parties; and candidates and public servants who represent constituents across the board and not those who have given them the most money.
Civic engagement comes in many forms. For some surprised high school seniors, it takes the form of voting for one initiative on the ballot that inspires them to action (“I can vote for just one initiative?” “Yes, every vote counts.”). Perhaps for the readers of this opinion piece, it comes in the form of contacting the co-sponsors of For the People Act (Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray), which has passed the U.S. House of Representatives and needs a hearing in the U.S. Senate to move forward.
The League of Women Voters’ mission is Empowering Voters, Defending Democracy. The League of Women Voters believes voting is the right and responsibility of every American citizen, and we defend democracy by supporting For the People.
Beth Pellicciotti is president of the League of Women Voters Spokane, www.lwvspokane.org. The League of Women Voters of Washington, www.lwvwa.org, is a nonpartisan organization that encourages the informed and active participation of citizens in government.
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