I’m not sure when they started giving out “I Voted Today” stickers, but my consecutive general election streak will be hitting number 42 on November 8. That’s a number that might impress my 18 year old son who will cast his first vote in a general election this fall, but no doubt it pales in comparison to many of my fellow Cuyahoga County citizens. This will now be the 11th Presidential election in which I have cast a ballot. Over the years I’ve pulled mechanical levers, punched out chads, and filled in dots. I’ve pulled back curtains, voted absentee, and voted early.
My son is excited to be casting his first vote which I am sure he views as a family rite of passage. He has grown up in a home where elections are viewed as important and participation is expected and encouraged. I have no doubt that my commitment to voting is similarly rooted in my upbringing. My father, a WWII Veteran, and my mother, a naturalized citizen from Italy, not only voted regularly, but stressed the importance of being an engaged citizen. Of course I knew the election result would never hinge on my one vote, but participating in the process and drama inherent in this civic and very public activity not only helped me shape my values as an individual but also strengthened my connection to my community and to my fellow citizens. Yes, voting can eat up a lot of time and energy, but I have to say, standing in that extremely long, but quiet and resolute line of citizens to cast my vote in 2008 was one of the most powerful experiences of my life.
Whether I vote out of personal commitment or out of a sense of duty or simply out of a force of habit, the truth is that obtaining a “I Voted Today” sticker was never made difficult for me. I didn’t need the 14th, 15th, 19th, 24th or 26st Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, or multiple Acts of Congress, or a boatload of U.S. Supreme Court decisions to allow my ballot to be cast and counted each November. English was my first language, I wasn’t disabled, and I could easily access my polling places. I didn’t have a prior criminal record or any other legal disability to voting. I have lived in the same residence for years, making it easy to keep my voter registration current, and I could easily obtain a driver’s license to present at the polls. When things come so much easier for some, it’s often difficult to recognize the barriers to voting, intentional or not, that continue to persist in our country.
It pains me to recognize that persistent and often times insidious obstacles to voting are as much of our historical legacy as is the declaration of the right to vote itself. Even 50 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the legal debate continues in some states whether conditions in those states require continued federal oversight of their voting processes. In states like Ohio, legal challenges to voting regulations sprout up every election cycle. This year alone we are seeing legal challenges to the Boards of Election purging voters who have not recently voted from the active voter registration rolls as well as challenges to elimination of what is known as “Golden Week”, an opportunity to both register and vote at the same time. With every policy change and challenge, there is likely to be significant legal scrutiny.
As we head into the home stretch for the 2016 election we can be certain of a few things. Campaigns will be actively monitoring Cuyahoga County polling sites with lawyers standing by to insure access and system integrity. The Courts will be busy trying to iron out disputes over our election processes. There is little doubt that I will be getting my “I Voted Today” sticker at my usual voting location, but others will be showing up in the wrong polling locations or finding out their voter registration has been purged by the Board of Elections and some will be turned away because they don’t have proper ID. Lines will form. Many people will stick it out, others will turn away.
At Cuyahoga County, protecting voting rights is a critical component of our Fairness and Equity agenda. As County Law Director I will be keeping watch over the election process with a keen interest in ensuring that access to the ballot is unfettered and that anyone who wishes to vote has the opportunity to do so. We recognize that the process is not as easy for some and that barriers to access continue to dissuade some of our citizens from voting.
Early voting either in person or by mail is an extremely effective way to ease some of those barriers and we encourage all of our citizens to take advantage of the early voting opportunities that exist.