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When judicial historians look back, June 25, 2013, will be a tough day to explain. The 15th Amendment is clear: Americans have the right to vote; it may not be denied based on race; and Congress may enforce the amendment through legislation. So how did a narrow majority on the Supreme Court conclude that they should gut the Voting Rights Act?
Of course, this ruling is just the latest in a string of attacks on the right of all Americans to vote. New discriminatory voting laws and poor election administration have disenfranchised too many Americans and subjected millions more to waits of up to seven hours to take part in an election. More often than not, these citizens are low-income, people of color, youth or seniors — victims of a renewed rash of the same cynical, anti-democratic tactics that prompted the Voting Rights Act nearly 50 years ago.
But in the shadow of these attacks on our fundamental voting rights, leaders and lawmakers around the country are forging new paths toward a free, fair and accessible democracy, to deliver on the promises of this nation’s founding documents.
As members of Congress consider their next steps, they would do well to follow the lead of states across the country that are already creating inclusive, empowering election systems for this century.
In Colorado, a bipartisan coalition of local election administrators and legislators just successfully passed comprehensive legislation to modernize the state’s elections, making them more accessible, more fair and more secure. It accomplished this through several mechanisms:
• Portable registration. When an eligible voter registers in Colorado, that registration will follow her when she moves in the state. The result? Less confusion and more efficiency. Shorter lines on Election Day, and higher turnout in each and every community.
• Election Day registration. The DMV failed to submit your voter registration form? Got excited by late-breaking news? Voter registration deadlines will no longer be a barrier, as eligible citizens will be able to register up to and on Election Day itself.
• Early voting. Offering eligible citizens the option to vote when it’s convenient for them, breaking out of the old one-day-or-the-highway election regime. Which means shorter lines on Election Day and a friendlier experience for voters.
• Mail ballots and election centers. All registered voters will receive a ballot in the mail. Need a replacement ballot or prefer to vote in person? Election centers will serve as one-stop locations for eligible voters through early voting and on Election Day.
Ultimately, the solution is simple: Rebuild our democracy with an eye toward convenience and inclusion. The Supreme Court’s recent ruling makes it easier for politicians to choose their voters. Colorado’s act upends that backward system — empowering voters to choose their leaders in a way that’s easy and secure.
Colorado’s actions are also an important reminder to voting rights advocates across the country. If Congress and the Supreme Court won’t solve this problem, we have other routes to reform — to secure the right to vote promised in our Constitution.
Matt Singer is the executive director of the Bus Federation, a grass-roots network that engages young voters, trains new leaders and advances policy.