Op-Ed

Rep. John Lewis almost died for ‘sacred’ right to vote. Don’t let his sacrifice be in vain.

If you spend any time on social media, you know that nearly every day is a holiday in the United States. We’ve recently marked National Daughters Day, National Cherries Jubilee Day, and even Crush a Can Day. There was one very important holiday amongst the unusual ones that you may have missed, National Voter Registration Day (NVRD). NVRD was launched in 2012 and has expanded to National Voter Registration Week. The idea is simple: raise awareness about voter registration deadlines so people don’t find themselves unable to vote. In Kentucky, the Oct. 7 registration deadline is fast approaching.

To prepare for Election Day on Tuesday, Nov. 5, every Kentuckian eligible to vote should go online to GoVoteKy.com. There, you can register to vote, check your current registration status, and update your information. If you don’t have access to the internet, pay a visit to your local county clerk’s office. You can fill out a paper application until 4:00 p.m. Oct. 7 to register, or review your current registration status and update any outdated information.

This year there is additional confusion around voter registration after news broke that more than 150,000 Kentucky voters were placed on an “inactive list.” A battle has ensued just weeks before Election Day over who is on the list, how it will be maintained, and whether and when voters could be purged from the rolls. The Secretary of State’s Office, NAACP, and others have requested publication of the list, but the State Board of Elections has kept it secret. Kentucky voters should know that even if they are on the ‘inactive list,’ they are still able to vote in the upcoming election.

In order to vote in Kentucky you must be a U.S. citizen and a Kentucky resident for at least 29 days before Election Day. If you are currently 17 years old, but will turn 18 by Election Day, you are allowed to register and participate in the upcoming election. Unfortunately, Kentucky continues to deny the right to vote to people who have a felony conviction in their past. As a result, more than 300,000 Kentuckians will be forced to sit on the sidelines on Election Day. Kentucky is an outlier on this front and has the highest African American disenfranchisement rate in the country, with about one out of every four, or 26.2% Black Kentuckians, ineligible to vote.

When I think about official voter disenfranchisement in Kentucky and the diminished voter participation that may happen because of confusion over the ‘inactive list,’ I can’t help but think of my hero, the Honorable Congressman John Lewis. I keep a picture of our meeting at the Kentucky Author Forum in 2014 in my office. He was beaten within an inch of his life on Bloody Sunday, marching for the right to vote. He often says, “The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. We must use it.” He is right. Make time for voter registration ahead of the Oct. 7 deadline. After you get that taken care of you can share that picture of your daughter, enjoy cherries jubilee for dessert, see how flat you can smash the can of pie filling, and get ready to vote on Election Day, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019.

Amber Duke is the communications director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Kentucky.

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