Buchaniec: This election season, remember those who can’t vote

Catherine Buchaniec, Op-Ed Contributor

We are a democratic republic — emphasis on the democratic. Despite the founding fathers’ fear of pure democracy, a concept they believed would ultimately lead to tyranny by “mob rule,” the notion of democracy was paramount to our founding as a nation. We fought a war to have a government for the people, by the people.

We have a democracy. Except we don’t.

Despite several constitutional amendments, legislative acts and civil protests, many United States citizens continue to be disenfranchised.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court upheld a North Dakota law requiring voters to provide a valid street address. For those living in North Dakota, this decision has the potential to permanently change the political landscape.

There are approximately 30,000 Native Americans living in North Dakota. In total, they account for 5 percent of the state’s population. They also disproportionately lack street addresses and instead rely on local P.O. boxes.

This law is blatant disenfranchisement. It is 2018, yet Native Americans continue to face hurdles when trying to perform their civic duty.

In fact, Native Americans who have a valid street address are also affected by this ruling. Many rent their homes and their current ID might not accurately reflect the address at which they are currently living. However, approximately 18,000 Native Americans do not have the supplemental documents, such as utility bills, that the state government has set up as the alternative solution to the lack of a current address.

In 2012, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) won her election by less than 3,000 votes, a number that included many Native Americans. Today, Heitkamp is running a re-election race that is equally if not more competitive against Republican Rep. Kevin Cramer. Those votes matter now more than ever. They have the potential to chose who represents North Dakota in the Senate. They have the potential to determine which political party has power.

Disenfranchisement is not limited to North Dakota — it is found in multiple states. In Georgia, for example, voter suppression has already begun to take form in various ways.

In 2017, Georgia passed the state’s “exact match” law requiring that citizens’ names on their government-issued IDs must exactly match their names as listed on the voter rolls. If not, said citizens must go through additional verification by a local registrar.

Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who is currently running for governor, has temporarily stopped more than 53,000 people from voting. These voters now need to bring an ID to the ballot if they wish to vote — a measure that has the potential to suppress voter turnout due to confusion over eligibility.

This suppression is not universally known to all Georgia voters; 70 percent of the 53,000 currently on hold are black. This statistic is not representative of the state’s 32 percent black population.

Kemp is currently running against Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams, a black woman who is expected win the majority of black voters.

This is a direct conflict of interest on the behalf of Kemp. Objectivity is needed in this race and in all races when determining voting legislation — one should not be in charge of state elections while running for office.

In 1776, the only people allowed to vote were white men over the age of 21 who also owned property. As a nation, we have made vast amounts of progress in making a government representative of the people it governs but we still have room for improvement.

The U.S. Constitution bans the restriction of voting based on race, sex and age. Yet, people continue to face legal disenfranchisement. In Georgia and North Dakota, as well as across the country, people are not legally able to perform their civic duty due to legislation that implicitly targets people of color and a system that lacks objectivity where objectivity is needed.

In 2018, regardless of race or gender, poverty level or geographic location, everyone deserves to have a say in who represents them. We deserve a government for the people, by the people.

Catherine Buchaniec is a Medill freshman. She can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this op-ed, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected]. The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.