My parents are immigrants. They shouldered the burden of taxes and student loans and waited in long lines in dingy, bureaucratic offices to become American citizens. My father takes civic participation to heart and goes to the ballot box every year on a chilly November day to participate in democracy.
But today it feels like people’s voices are lost more than ever in the din of partisanship. Democrats and Republicans alike redraw district lines in the shapes of amoebas and gimpy legs and glock pistols to muffle voices. Money talks. Voter intimidation is at an all-time high as unauthorized people stand near ballot boxes, claiming to “True the Vote.”
According to a study done by the Department of Justice, only 26 people out of 197 million voters were convicted of or plead guilty to voter fraud from 2002 to 2005. It is a non-issue that has been made an issue for political gain. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have cited fraud as a reason for disenfranchising voters whom cannot present photo identification at the polls. This disproportionately affects students, the elderly and those below the poverty line, many of whom could not have obtained a valid ID in time for the election.
More efforts were being made in Ohio to curb early voting, which again, disenfranchises those who cannot afford to leave work on Election Day. The Supreme Court struck down those efforts yesterday. In this case, the Democrats favored early voting because it was politically advantageous. Even though they claim moral high ground, I have no doubt in my mind that if the situation was reversed, they would go to the same lengths to prevent early voting. Politics is a grab for power and then a fierce protection of that position for as long as it is institutionally allowed.
People wonder why voter turnout is low in this country. They wonder why the electorate is apathetic, why young people don’t participate in their democracy. Silly questions, all of them. Even I, a relatively political young person, sometimes see the whole thing as futile. My vote will be a grain of sand on a beach of votes. Yet not all votes are equal. The votes of the rich and the votes of those who live in certain districts are more valuable and powerful. Why should I bother fighting to make my voice heard when it’s so difficult to do so, and my relative influence is so minute?
But this is precisely the point of democracy. I’m fighting for my voice on the assumption that you are, too. All those grains of sand together form beaches that stretch for miles. And this is why I say — we must fight together. We need to fight and keep fighting to participate in our government. So many have shed blood and sweat for suffrage, because it was their government. It is our government, too. We have a huge stake in these local, state and national elections.
Regardless of politics and partisanship, democracy is the people’s struggle to form a more perfect union, a more perfect government. And to do so, we all must play our role. The media must serve as the immune system of government, shedding light on every effort to prevent citizens from voting. The justice system must protect citizens’ rights, as they have done with the recent overruling of both the Pennsylvania voter ID law and the Ohio early voting law. And every citizen must fight and continue to fight to know what is happening and to cast their ballot in November, rain or shine — like my father, who fought so long to do so because he believed this was his country, too.
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 18 print edition. Padmini Parthasarathy is a contributing columnist. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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