November 2nd, tomorrow, voters in Washington state will have an opportunity to have their voices heard. We are lucky that in Washington, voting is easy. Our ballots are 100% mail-in, with plentiful drop boxes, free postage for mailing the ballots, and several weeks from the time ballots are received in the mail to when they must be returned. Voter pamphlets are in multiple languages. Most barriers to voting have been removed. In Seattle, we also have Democracy vouchers, where voters can contribute campaign funds to their favorite candidate running for a City of Seattle office.
Voters in other states are much less fortunate. According to the ACLU, in recent years, more than 400 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 48 states. The result is a severely compromised democracy that doesn’t reflect the will of the people. Our democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard. Some examples of voter suppression laws have included: requiring voter identification, requiring in-person voting, restricting time allowed to vote, limiting places where people can vote, prohibiting anyone from providing food and water to people waiting in line to vote (which can take many hours), allowing poll watchers that could intimidate voters, and purging registered voter rolls, all in the name of election integrity.
Voter disenfranchisement is not new. Our country’s founders believed only white land-owning men should vote. Since the Civil War, Constitutional amendments were enacted to prohibit limiting voting rights based on gender, race, age (for citizens who are at least 18), and wealth (when banning the poll tax). Today, about a quarter of all eligible voters are not registered to vote and thus unable to vote on Election Day – including nearly half of young adults under 25. About 5% of our population is directly disenfranchised because of previous convictions, residence in a territory, living in an area with historically poor voting machines, difficulties with overseas and military ballots, and other reasons*.
Even before we go to the polls, politicians have “gerrymandered” the voting districts, which is when the lines of legislative districts are drawn to favor one political party (or candidate) over another. In many cases, this has led to disenfranchisement of BIPOC voters. This process is called redistricting and is happening right now. Redistricting is the process of creating new districts or redrawing existing district boundaries to adjust for population changes that occurred in the last decade. The bipartisan 5 member Washington Redistricting Commission is asking community members’ input to draw these lines. If interested in getting involved, learn more here.
This November, voters are making an important decision on who will lead our City, County, School Boards, and Port. If you have already voted, thank you! If you have not, please remember to do so by November 2nd. If you have not registered to vote, you can do so in person at multiple voting centers, open until 8 pm on Election Day.
Democracy is not a state. It is an act, and each generation must do its part to move this nation toward a more perfect union. There is no power more fundamental to democracy than the right to vote.
The Late Congressman John Lewis and Senator Patrick Leahy
Janice Deguchi, Executive Director