“In the past, apathy was a moral failure. Today, it is a form of moral and political suicide.” — Martin Luther King Jr., Civil Rights Activist, “Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story,” November 30, 1957
There is no democracy without the right to vote—and the unobstructed ability to exercise that right. Voting is not only a central responsibility of citizenship, but it is a bedrock principle of our representative democracy. Your vote is your registered-as-present and informed voice engaging in and impacting our ongoing, national and local conversations about public policy and the direction or derailment of American progress.
With so much at stake in this presidential (or any) election, it would be a gross dereliction of your duty as an American citizen to sit on the sidelines brooding under a dark, passive cloud of political apathy. In fact, choosing not to vote is not an act of politically savvy rebellion, it is surrender. It is a surrender of the power constitutionally invested in you as a citizen. It is a surrender of your voice, experience and ideas in the public realm. In its own perverse way, that vote tossed aside is a vote cast. It becomes a vote that could potentially undo progress and reverse policies that benefit you and the people of your community. Avoid representation without referendum and vote.
I am grateful to live in a 21st century nation that aspires to giveall her citizens the choice to elect a leader. But in certain states, if you are a person of color, a senior citizen, have special needs, are a college student or are an ex-felon, you will be subject to laws and requirements that make voting difficult, if not impossible. It is the great riddle of American democracy that while many of our elected leaders decry the United States’ low voter turnout percentages while extolling the importance of voting, many of them enact legislation that suppress voter numbers.
To protect democracy, we must obviously defend and protect the right to vote for all eligible citizens and those made ineligible by unjust, restrictive rules. That is why the National Urban League has partnered with Election Protection(http://www.866ourvote.org/), along with a broad coalition of legal and community organizations, to ensure that all voters have equal opportunity to participate in the political process.Working around voter suppression tactics does not mean we endorse them in any way. The argument that these measures stop rampant voter fraud has been debunked—repeatedly. We believe the requirements are unnecessary, and in many instances, were designed with the intention of suppressing the vote, particularly in urban communities of color. We are working hard to ensure that those restrictions do not become barriers to voting.
One way to ensure your access to the voting booth is to know before you go.
A new national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that many Americans don’t know their state’s voter ID requirements. One-in-five voters live in states, like Georgia or Kansas, that require photo IDs to vote, but were not aware of the requirement. Close to four-in-ten voters lived in states, such as New York or Nevada, where no ID is required to vote, but believed they needed to present identification. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in all, 32 states currently have laws requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls. Do you know the voting requirement(s) of your state? Knowing could be the difference between casting your vote or being denied your constitutional right to the ballot box.
Provisional ballots can be a remedy or voting option when there are questions about your eligibility because of an irregularity, like your name not appearing on the list of registered voters at your polling place, not having the right form of voter ID, refusing to show an ID in states that require identification, or if a poll worker challenges your eligibility. An election official is required to offer you a provisional, instead of a regular ballot. You have a right to a provisional ballot, even if it is not offered to you. If you face this, or any other problem on Election Day, or have questions, call Election Protection’s hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Less than a week from now, our nation will head to the polls on November 8 to make some crucial decisions. We will decide whether to repeal and replace or revise the Affordable Care Act. We will decide if women should get paid as much as their male counterparts for the same work. We will decide if our current criminal justice system needs to be rehabilitated. We will decide if we will remain dependent on fossil fuels or make strides and create 21st century jobs using alternative forms of energy.
There is so much, and more, at stake. Don’t waste your vote. Don’t allow anyone to intimidate you so you don’t vote. Get to the polls on November 8. Do not be deterred, do not become frustrated, and refuse to be silenced. On Election Day, be informed, be adamant, and be one of the millions who will exercise their right to vote.
Marc Morial is the president and CEO of the National Urban League.