Voting: Powerful, transformative

2/26/2016, 8:07 a.m.
The 2016 election is historic, not only because we could elect the first woman president, but because for the first ...

Rep John Lewis

The 2016 election is historic, not only because we could elect the first woman president, but because for the first time in more than 50 years, this nation will vote without the protection of the Voting Rights Act, which kept discriminatory voting changes from becoming law. Under the guise of preserving election integrity, more than 37 states around the country, including Virginia, have implemented new voter ID laws designed to suppress the votes of certain citizens.

Actually, an ID always has been required to vote. But until now, a wider array of identification was acceptable, such as a utility bill or Social Security card or an employer or college-issued photo ID. Mandating that only a government-issued photo ID is acceptable places an extra burden on every citizen to travel to the closest government office, which can be hundreds of miles away in big states like Texas, and pay whatever fee is required to purchase a new ID. People with driver’s licenses see no inconvenience, but for the poor, senior citizens, the disabled and rural voters, it is an added burden many cannot overcome.

That’s why the Democratic Party has been suing in Virginia and around the country to challenge these laws. The general counsel to Hillary Clinton’s campaign will represent the interests of the most vulnerable voters in this suit. Mrs. Clinton’s dedication to this issue has been more long-standing than any other candidate. As a senator, she introduced legislation hailed as the “gold standard” for voting access, including automatic voter registration at birth, a national standard for early voting and an Election Day federal holiday so that nothing blocks the ability of citizens to make their voices heard.

People shed blood in this country so that you would have the right to vote. It is the most powerful transformative tool we have in our democracy. Though voter fraud is statistically nonexistent, this country has a long history of suppressing and restricting voting access. Make sure your candidate of choice demonstrates a commitment to unimpeded access to the ballot box. Exercise your right to vote on March 1.

The writer represents Georgia’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives.