On October 22, Kate Rubins, an American astronaut, cast her vote in the upcoming election from the International Space Station. In a video posted by NASA, Rubins encouraged those of us on earth to vote, saying, “If we can do it from space, then I believe folks can do it from the ground.” While I applaud her intent, the reality is, it’s probably easier to vote from space than here on earth.
U.S. Voting Restrictions
Voting restrictions in the U.S. vary dramatically by state. Eligible voters in Oregon are automatically registered, and everyone is sent a mail-in ballot. Meanwhile, Mississippi essentially doesn’t have an absentee or early voting system, and voters must present a photo ID at the polls.
In the past ten years, voting restrictions have increased in certain states. ID requirements are becoming stricter, early voting is being cut, and it is becoming more difficult to register. States are even taking people off voter registration lists for no good reason. And these measures are affecting voting.
There is a correlation between voting restrictions and voter turnout, meaning that the more restrictions a state has, the fewer people vote.
The Reasons Behind Restrictions
You may ask, why would anyone want to make it more difficult to vote? The issue is split down party lines. Democrats want fewer restrictions. Republicans argue that lax laws could cause voter fraud despite it being extremely rare.
Historically, restrictions were put in place to suppress minorities. Literacy tests and voting fees targeted black and poor voters. Before the 1965 Voting Rights Act, it was essentially impossible for people of color to vote in the U.S. Though not as severe today, that trend still continues.
Research shows that existing restrictions disproportionately affect people of color and the poor – they rob minorities of their right to vote. Politicians also craftily draw district lines to decrease minority power with a tactic called gerrymandering. In addition, the United States’ census data has historically underrepresented minorities, allocating them fewer resources and representatives. In 2010, the census missed 9% of black people.
It’s hard to say how much of an impact these restrictions have, but data can give us a general idea. In 2016, at least 90,000 New Yorkers couldn’t vote because they didn’t register 25 days before the election. States removed 16 million voters from registration lists between 2014 and 2016, and in Georgia, 70% of those purged from voter lists in 2018 were black. And these numbers don’t include those that didn’t make it into the data because of misinformation or difficulties registering.
Now, in one of the most important elections in U.S. history, the Trump administration is attempting to disenfranchise voters by blocking a portion of mail-in ballots from being counted. It is time for the U.S. to take a hard look at its voting process. These restrictions are about politics, not fraud.
How Have We Allowed This to Continue?
When people think of the United States, they primarily think of a country rooted in ideals of democracy and freedom. They think of a government system so strong that nothing can break it.
When President Trump won the 2016 election, I was one of those people. I was naive enough to have full faith in our system of checks and balances – and I was wrong. Not only was I wrong about the future, but I was blind to the flaws in our system that existed before Trump. This idealization of the United States – this perception of perfection – allows us to ignore the obvious.
Those of us who lead more privileged lives in the U.S. have to throw away our perception of our country and look at what is really happening. We are becoming eerily similar to the countries we condemn with a sense of superiority. The military is breaking up protests, police are killing people without reason, and our president is declaring he won’t peacefully concede if he loses. This description makes us sound like the governments we look down upon – those with unstable political climates or dictatorships.
What You Can Do
So what do we do? We don’t have to stop being proud of what our country does right. There are lot of things to be proud of, but we can’t be blinded by the notion of greatness. We must critically examine our government and its actions and ask ourselves: Is this what democracy is?
If the answer is no, we must take a stand. Some of us have forgotten that our country’s future isn’t up to the politicians in Washington, it is up to every single person that identifies as an American. It is time for us to remember that.
I urge you to take time out of your day to think about our government and who’s running it. Research candidates for national and local elections, and volunteer or donate. Most importantly, make sure to vote. Research your state’s voting process: how to register, when to vote, and what to bring. I Will Vote is a great source of information.
Voting restrictions are meant to stop us from voting. Until we can dismantle them, let’s not let them.