America has a long history of limiting the right to vote, but Tom Epstein says California is enacting new laws to expand the voter rolls and make it easier to vote.
As we enter 2018, hundreds of new state laws take effect in California, including one allowing counties to send everyone a mail-in ballot. It can then be dropped off at early voting sites until Election Day. At a time when voting rights are under attack, that’s a good thing.
Other recent laws will register you to vote when you get a new driver’s license; or you can even register on Election Day. These reforms increased voter rolls by nearly 10% the past two years and a million more Californians voted in 2016 than ever before.
These steps to encourage voting stand in stark contrast to centuries of barriers that began with the Founders. At the country’s birth, the white men who wrote the Constitution gave only themselves the right to cast a ballot.
It took the Civil War to legalize voting by African-Americans, but literacy tests and poll taxes disenfranchised many until they were outlawed by the Voting Rights Act in 1967.
Women were banned from voting until 1920 and ethnic minorities fared even worse. Native Americans obtained full voting rights in 1924 and many Asian-Americans and Latinos were not enfranchised until decades later.
State laws limiting voting rights became much more prevalent after the 2010 election when Republicans won control of many statehouses. Unsupported claims of voter fraud were used to justify new barriers for young and minority voters.
When the Supreme Court ended federal review of new voter laws in certain Southern states in 2013, many immediately passed voter suppression measures. In all, 23 states adopted new restrictions since 2010, including photo ID rules, early voting cutbacks and registration barriers.
Fortunately, we live in a state going the opposite direction by expanding our electorate and making it easier, not harder, to vote. Now, more potential voters must give life to this bold, against-the-tide policy by registering and voting.
Let’s send a message to the rest of the country that more voters, not less, is the future of democracy.
With a Perspective, I’m Tom Epstein.
Epstein is a writer and community volunteer who lives in the East Bay.