May 27, 2017 02:59 AM PST
SINCE 2007

Rededicating ourselves to our democracy

The Capitol Perspective

As the Fourth of July comes around again, we go to our barbecues and enjoy our fireworks as we do every year. However, it also offers an opportunity to take the time and think about all that this country has given us, and what we owe it in return.

While the United States has long been considered a beacon of democracy, the state of our elections do not live up to our reputation. Voter turnout in the United States is far lower than the average among developed countries, and many states across our nation are implementing policies that will continue this unfortunate trend. After last week’s decision curtailing the Voting Rights Act, many states have already begun implementing policies designed to make it harder for people of color to vote. In Texas, they have instituted voter ID requirements previously judged as discriminatory by the Department of Justice, that target Democratic constituencies. In North Carolina, the legislature is targeting early voting policies and same day registration, citing non-existent threats of voter fraud to justify preventing citizens from voting. We have seen these sorts of desperate attempts to win elections by disqualifying voters in recent years, but the weakening of the Voting Rights Act will lead to more of them. We must recognize this for what it is; a fundamental assault on basic American values. Make no mistake, our right to vote is in danger. That makes it all the more important that California lead the way.

Last year, as a result of a bill I managed to get signed into law in 2011, the State of California started allowing citizens to register to vote online. In the first six weeks, three quarters of a million new voters registered and were critical in passing Proposition 30, which restored funding for our schools and helped make this year’s balanced budget a reality. But we cannot rest on our laurels yet. This year, I have two more bills that expand on this victory and find new ways to make our elections more open to all.

The first, SB 44, will make it even easier to register to vote online. In 1993, the Motor Votor law allowed Departments of Motor Vehicles across the country to distribute voter registration cards. As a result, voter registration increased nationwide, due to a simple change that put the opportunity to register in front of practically every adult in the country. SB 44 takes this concept into the digital age. By requiring every website run by the state of California to carry a link to the Secretary of State’s voter registration page, every interaction with state government will allow Californians to join in the political process. Equality of access is the best way to assure a level playing field.

The second is SB 637, which was just passed by the Senate Elections Committee. This will call upon county elections officials to follow the example set here in San Francisco and San Mateo, by requiring them to designate locations for Saturday voting in the month prior to Election Day. The fact our elections are held on Tuesdays regularly puts working people in a bind by forcing them to choose between the obligations of work and family and their civic duty. If it was possible to cast one’s ballot on a Saturday, voting becomes more convenient for everybody. Perhaps more important, it becomes easier to bring our children along into the voting booth, so as to better teach them the importance of civic engagement. This bill is an important step forward in the effort to make sure everyone has a fair chance of making their voice heard.

Our right to vote is too important for us to let it be chipped away at. We must condemn the attempts to wrongfully restrict the right to vote from our fellow citizens. But at the same time, we must push new innovations that not only make it easier for everyone to vote here in California, but to show other states that we can strengthen our democracy by increasing access rather than allowing our government to be controlled by a shrinking few. This 4th of July, let us rededicate ourselves to the most basic and fundamental of values this country was founded on; one person, one vote.