Why Americans don’t vote (and what to do about it)
Our current democratic system faces grave challenges.
From corporate interests influencing politicians, to gerrymandered districts that strip voters of their voice, to outdated election machines that cause long lines on Election Day, the American people have lost confidence in the process and don’t see their interests represented by some elected officials. But there is a solution on the horizon to fix these problems.
Newly-introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate will significantly restore power to voters that has been usurped by moneyed and political interests. Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, and Senator Tom Udall of New Mexico introduced its Senate companion bill.
This comprehensive legislation takes direct aim at many of the current roadblocks to making American democracy work. Some have said that the For the People Act is a “power grab,” and it is: it takes power away from special interests and returns it to the people. The cornerstone of American democracy is the power of our elections – and in that democracy, everyone’s vote must count equally.
But because of gerrymandered election maps in states around the country, in many places politicians choose their voters by drawing maps that favor their own re-election. The For the People Act requires independent redistricting commissions to abolish gerrymandering once and for all, truly giving a more powerful voice to American voters.
In recent years, we have seen obstacles at the ballot box, from fewer polling places and cuts to early voting hours. The For the People Act removes such obstacles and improves access to voting with reforms such as expanded early and absentee voting, and online, and same-day registration.
It gives power and resources directly to the states to modernize and secure their election systems, making sure that every American has a fair chance to vote and the opportunity to have their voice heard.
In America, the right to vote is sacred, but in some places in our country, citizens who have committed crimes can have those rights stripped away. Once ex-felons have served their sentences, that right should be restored. Kentucky is one of three states that permanently takes away the right to vote from persons who have been convicted of felony offenses. Virginia’s governor restores the vote to almost all of its citizens, and Iowa is moving in the same direction – leaving Kentucky as the lone state to permanently disenfranchise thousands of our citizens.
According to “Felony Disenfranchisement in the Commonwealth of Kentucky: A Report of the League of Women Voters of Kentucky,” January 2019, 312,000 Kentucky citizens, including 26 percent of African Americans of voting age, cannot vote. This is a travesty that the For the People Act would remedy.
It’s no secret that money plays a major role in our elections. But our government should respond to the will of the people not powerful corporations and wealthy donors. This legislation will repair the broken Federal Election Commission, make strides towards remedying the negative impacts of Citizens United, improve transparency in campaign finance and strengthen government ethics enforcement.
The For The People Act is a bold, transformative set of reforms that will strengthen our democracy and return political power to the people. As an organization with the mission of empowering voters and defending democracy, the League of Women Voters is proud to support legislation that does the same. The American people deserve to know more about this important legislation.
We urge every Kentuckian to contact our Senator, Mitch McConnell, as the most powerful Senator in the chamber, to move this forward with a committee hearing. As with all U.S. Senators, he is obligated to respond to the will of his fellow Kentuckians.
Fran Wagner is president of The League of Women Voters of Kentucky