Daily Times (Primos, PA)

U.S. should reduce the barriers to voting, not increase them

- By Debra Ciamacca Times Guest Columnist Debra Ciamacca was a 2020 candidate for state representa­tive in the 168th and was formerly a Marine Corps Captain and high school Social Studies teacher.

Christine Flowers’ recent opinion piece rages at critics of the new Georgia voting bill. She despises their characteri­zation of the bill as “Jim Crow.” She rails at the idea that this bill has anything to do with segregatio­n, water hoses, or human rights violations. She pooh-poohs the provisions of the bill. Reduced drop boxes ... so what! Reduced time to get your ballot ... no big deal! No water in line ... bring your own! But whatever you do, don’t question the motives of the Republican governor or the Legislatur­e.

But here is my question: what problem is this bill trying to fix? Let’s come back to that.

As a high school government teacher I liked to pose questions to my students rather than simply give them the answers. One question I posed was, “Why do U.S. voters vote at such a low rate?”

The U.S. is 25th in the world in voting. According to the Pew Research Center, only 55% of the voting eligible population voted in the 2016 election. Contrast that with Belgium (87%), Sweden (82%) or Denmark (80%)

Students worked in groups, gathered evidence, came up with conclusion­s, and then presented them to the class. Invariably, year after year, they all came up with one similar finding: state government­s set up barriers that make it difficult for people to vote.

Some of their findings:

People working for an hourly wage found it difficult to go to their job, take care of their kids, and still get to the polls on time. In many states, polling lines are long and the polls are only open from 7 am to 7 pm.

Voter registrati­on is not automatic in the US as it is in many other countries. People don’t know where to register or how to register.

Voter identifica­tion requiremen­ts stop many people, especially poor people, from voting. Getting the documents to qualify for a state id can be expensive. And many people in the cities do not have a driver’s license.

Most countries hold election day on a Sunday, not a Tuesday. Because people are working Monday through Friday, holding elections on a Tuesday creates a burden.

When I asked students what the solution should be to low voter turnout, they always cited two: automatic voter registrati­on and making election day a holiday.

In other words, the U.S. should reduce the barriers to voting, not increase them. The U.S. should make it easier to vote, not set up a system of hurdles that people have to jump over in order to register to vote and to execute their vote on election day.

Georgia just passed a 98-page voting bill that seeks to solve the voting problems they found during the 2020 election. What voting problems? Good question. Republican Secretary of State Brad Raffensber­ger, an official who voted for Donald J. Trump said that there was no evidence of fraud in the election. That he and his department had counted the votes three times and had found no fraud. The top voting official in Georgia found no reason to make voting in Georgia more difficult.

Ms. Flowers convenient­ly glosses over the necessity of this bill and the barriers to voting imposed in the new bill. Here are just a few of the most onerous ones:

• Cuts the time to request absentee ballot from 180 days to 78 days (gives local officials less time to process ballots)

• Requires the id # be written on the ballot envelope. (Trump lawyers wanted ballots thrown out when numbers or names or dates were written with minor mistakes even though the ballot itself was completed correctly)

• Reduces drop boxes from 94 to 32 or less and they must be placed in government buildings. (reduces access to working people)

• No food and water may be given to people in line. (Georgia has closed 214 voting precincts... lines are longer. Why can’t people be given sustenance?)

• People who go to the wrong precinct to vote can’t vote by provisiona­l ballot. (Precinct locations are constantly being changed. Why can’t they vote provisiona­lly?)

• The Georgia legislatur­e can suspend county election officials and have replaced the State Secretary of State on the Election Board. (Why? No problems were recorded here other than Trump did not like the outcome.)

Georgia may not be exactly resurrecti­ng the Jim Crow era of the 1950s and 60s. It was a time of racial segregatio­n laws and brutal beatings in the South. It was also a time when people of color were supposed to “know their place.” These were the norms of those awful times.

But we must acknowledg­e that new barriers to voting are being erected because some do not like the outcome of the 2020 election.

That some do not like the minority power organized and executed with precision in the Georgia election by Stacey Abrams.

We may not have the blood and brutality of the Jim Crow south today. But if we allow Republican­s in 43 states to pass restrictiv­e voting laws, we are imposing a new form of discrimina­tion in our government.

I taught over 3,000 students in my career as a high school teacher, Ms. Flowers. These students questioned why our government makes voting so difficult. I didn’t know how to answer them. Would you?

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