We Need Election Reform Now


Joy Herrera, Staff Writer

Despite priding itself for being “by the people and for the people,” the United States government has never extended the vote to all its citizens. The 2020 general election was a test of the U.S. election system as states struggled with the highest voter turnout that we have seen in years, along with the pandemic. This has made politicians on both sides of the spectrum move to change the voting system in ways that could prove to be either disastrous or extraordinary.

The most influential piece of voting rights legislation in the United States is the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which was passed after African American activists rallied for greater access to the vote and forced Congress’s hand with the Selma to Montgomery marches. This piece of legislation enforced accessibility standards to the states at the federal level and allowed the federal government to stop voter discrimination on the basis of race.

However, in 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in the landmark case Shelby County vs. Holder that a portion of this act was unconstitutional. Since then, this key piece of legislation has been limited, with prominent federal lawmakers concurring that its oversight was not needed. States have reacted to the increased freedom by passing law after law limiting the vote in the name of security. On the contrary, I would argue that election security should not be the greatest factor at play when we decide our voting systems. Voting security is often used as an excuse to impose harsh restrictions on marginalized communities.

It is clear to me that we need election reform, and we need it now. In states across the country, lawmakers who are primarily Republican are moving to suppress voter turnout. In Arizona, Republican lawmakers have passed laws banning the counting of provisional ballots cast in the wrong precinct and the collection of absentee ballots by anyone but a family member or caregiver. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the law was not necessary to prevent ballot fraud but would make it more difficult for minorities in rural areas to vote. 

Now, this case is up in the Supreme Court as Brnovich vs. Democratic National Committee. The Supreme Court has to decide whether these laws are constitutional, and in doing so, will put yet another part of the Voting Rights Act up to scrutiny. This time, it is Section Two, which bans practices that result in racial inequality, that will come under review. The Supreme Court is now more conservative, and it looks like the justices are leaning towards a ruling which will curtail the Voting Rights Act yet again. 

The Supreme Court has ruled consistently in recent years to uphold limiting the vote, and this is because the Constitution does not explicitly affirm the right to vote. It is up to lawmakers and the people to hold the government accountable for its voting practices.

Our system of government was never meant to allow voting for all. In fact, it wasn’t even meant to include voting for all white men; only landed, wealthy, educated, white men were supposed to be able to vote. I believe that if voting and democracy are supposed to be part of our values, as a country, then we need an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. 

However, I know that the road to a constitutional amendment is a long one, and I believe that while this must be the end goal, even incremental change is monumental towards allowing Americans to decide the fate of America. On Mar. 7, President Biden signed an executive order aiming to improve accessibility for voter registration. This executive order was a way to commemorate Bloody Sunday, a tragic incident where civil rights activists were beaten by state troopers for marching for voting rights.

Furthermore, the House of Representatives recently passed a piece of legislation called the For the People Act or House Resolution 1 (H.R. 1). This piece of legislation aims to overhaul America’s voting systems. It mandates that all states allow no-excuse mail voting, makes Election Day a federal holiday, grants suffrage to felons who have completed their sentences, and overhauls campaign financing, among other things. House Democrats see this as one of the only ways to prevent massive voter suppression attempts like the one that came out of Arizona. 

Although it has passed in the House, its fate is unclear in the Senate. It would need a 60-vote majority to clear the Senate with the filibuster. This seems very unlikely as Republicans are staunchly opposed to the bill, which they perceive as a partisan attempt to gain power. 

Pieces of legislation like H.R. 1 are pivotal in getting people out to the vote. Still, there has been pushback from Republican politicians in response to attempts to reform voting. They believe that this will weaken voting security and give Democrats an unfair advantage, in many cases, against all evidence to the contrary. 

So I have to ask, why is it so controversial to expand voting rights? I believe it is because it can be advantageous for certain groups to maintain the status quo. Nonetheless, this point of view is detrimental to the lives of many, and for America to be democratic, citizens need to be fairly represented. Our government can not represent the people if it is not elected by the people. Election reform is a vital part of creating a society that can handle the challenges of the modern age and create a more equitable life for its citizens.