If there’s one thing that every American should agree with, it’s this: Voting is the fundamental right in our democracy, the one that makes all others possible. The right to choose our representatives is why patriots dumped tea into Boston Harbor, why women marched for the 19th Amendment and why, 51 years ago, people of all races joined together to win the passage of the Voting Rights Act. But one of the most insidious ideas in the 2016 election is that voting rights are negotiable. More than 20 states have enacted voting restrictions that could prevent many Americans from exercising their fundamental right to vote this November. We saw the logical outcome of these laws last month in Arizona, when local election officials closed 70% of polling locations in Maricopa County. We will never know how many people didn’t vote that day, frustrated by five-hour lines and overwhelmed poll workers.
The reason given in Arizona was “cost-cutting,” but it wouldn’t have happened if the Supreme Court hadn’t done some cutting if its own — in a 2013 decision that shredded the protections in the Voting Rights Act.
Before that decision, a place like Maricopa County with a history of disenfranchising people of color would have had to petition the U.S. Department of Justice before closing polling locations.
But today states with a long history of racial discrimination are free to change voting rules to deprive people of their most sacred right in our democracy. If Arizona is a story of when voting rights go wrong, California wants to be an example of when voting rights go right.