Election Day holds tremendous importance in our country, not just as the day when we vote our leaders into office, but as the symbolic cornerstone of our democracy. It is a day when all our voices are heard. No matter what you look like, how much money you make, your family’s background, or how old you are, we all have an equal say on Election Day. The openness and fairness of our voting process is what makes America the leading democracy in the world.
Unfortunately, there are those who would undermine our democracy to push their own political agendas.
You don’t have to live in a presidential battleground like Ohio or Florida to experience voter intimidation or needless restrictions on your right to vote. Recently, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case against Arizona’s proof of citizenship requirement for voter registration. We all have to provide ID when we first register to vote and no Arizonan has been charged with falsifying their citizenship when they registered, so why do we need extra hurdles between eligible voters and the ballot box?
And then there is the egregious mistake Maricopa County election officials made twice when they let voter registration cards and bookmarks with the wrong election date printed in Spanish go out to the public. Officials tried to minimize the gaffe, but even one misinformed voter is too many. Whether its sloppy proofreading, faulty voting machines, or lack of adequate resources on Election Day, our right to choose our elected leaders is too important to allow any mistakes.
Some may chalk these things up to human error, but unfortunately you don’t have to dig too far into the past to know that people have willingly used unjust laws and even physical violence to restrict voters’ access to the polls. That’s why the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed — to protect everyone’s right to vote regardless of race and ensure no laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote are enacted. Unfortunately, Arizona has been on the Department of Justice’s watch list for our voting and election policies for decades after the law passed, and we haven’t made enough progress in the past 47 years to be taken off that list.
As recently as last election, there were accusations of poll challengers brandishing guns in front of polling places in heavily Latino districts and poll workers asking ID from minority voters but not from white voters. There are proper ways to police polling places. That should be in the hands of professional election officials, not untrained, politically motivated bullies with their own agendas.
Thankfully, there are groups like our friends at Arizona Advocacy Network who do great work to counter voter intimidation by educating voters on their rights and helping them to report and monitor incidents of Election Day harassment. But, making sure our elections remain free and fair is something all of us should take responsibility for.
Our elections should be decided by the voices of the American people, not by politicians and ideological groups trying to manipulate the system. Voting is a right, a civic duty, and the backbone of our democracy. We must protect the integrity of our elections, not by making it harder for people to vote, but by empowering each and every eligible voter to go to the polls and have their say. When all our voices are heard and when we all vote, that’s when democracy works best.
Rebekah Friend is a Mesa resident and secretary/treasurer and executive director of the Arizona AFL-CIO, the labor union federation in Arizona representing 185,000 union members through over 200 local union affiliates.