Editorial: A welcome move to protect voting rights

07/28/2017 5:55 AM |

The history of voting rights in America is littered with obstacles and roadblocks.

It took until 1870, with the 15th Amendment, for African-American men to earn the right to vote. And even then, literacy tests and poll taxes were designed to suppress their vote. The 19th Amendment, granting voting rights to women, wasn’t adopted until 1920. The 24th Amendment, outlawing poll taxes, was passed in 1964. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 aimed to further solidify those rights for African Americans, nearly a full century after the 15th Amendment granted them.

Progress has come slowly.

Even today, a whopping 230 years after drafting of the U.S. Constitution began, the right to vote remains under threat. Voter suppression efforts are underway at the highest level of our republic, led by President Trump’s commission investigating voter fraud. The commission’s effort appears less focused on finding voting fraud — an allegation firmly refuted by academic studies and other investigations — than it is on finding ways to minimize the number of people who vote. The allegation of voter fraud is merely a mirage to build barriers to voting.

The American Civil Liberties Union has said that up to 17 states had restrictive voting laws in place during the last election. In Ohio last year, the ACLU challenged a process that would allow a registered voter to be removed for failing to vote in two years — or one midterm election, according to The New York Times. The practice was halted in the courts and the Supreme Court is set to review the case in the fall, the Times reported earlier this month. North Carolina’s infamous voter restriction law that generated national headlines this year came to an end when the Supreme Court decided not to hear the state’s appeal of a lower court ruling striking it down.

On Monday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order designed to expand voter registration opportunities in New York — another example of our state showing leadership in the face of a regressive federal administration.

The executive order directs every state agency to make voter registration forms available and to offer assistance in filling them out. A new voter registration task force will explore ways to implement the reforms and oversee administration of the voter registration program.

The governor has also ordered SUNY and CUNY schools to conduct full investigations of their campus voter registration practices to ensure that required steps are being taken to increase registration rates among young voters.

“It is our responsibility to make it as easy as possible for people to vote because that’s what democracy looks like,” Mr. Cuomo said in a press release.

The Department of Motor Vehicles will also send information referencing online voter registration applications in all emails sent to New Yorkers about renewing their licenses, identification cards and vehicle registrations.

“Whether you are a student in college or a grandparent living on Social Security, there should be no artificial barriers to register and take part in the electoral process,” Mr. Cuomo said.

Our history in this country has been marred by efforts to limit voting. It’s worth remembering the fight for equality remains.

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