In the last few decades, we watched the long lines of millions of voters waiting their turn to cast their vote in places like South Africa, Chile, Nicaragua, and The Philippines. Just recently, the same happened in Egypt. It seems that the new energy and enthusiasm to vote in these nations followed a struggle with oppressive control of the electoral process. In many of these nations, voter’s identification credentials were rejected. Cases of ballot box controls were later revealed. Thousands of votes were left uncounted. In the U.S., being a nation built on the values of democracy, the experience of these nations should be a wake-up call to us right now.
Recent developments of states unilaterally purging election rolls should raise red flags of concern. The fact that state after state in this country is imposing very rigid election requirements should stir us out of our apathetic slumber. Over twenty-four states now have some form of ID requirement, eleven of them during the last two years. Their explanation is that we need to guard against voter fraud; however, the data does not prove that fraud is a major issue. In fact, the average fraud persecution of the last decade is one per state per year, and those were vote buying schemes paid for by wealthy investors.
The real result of these new requirements is that they exclude persons who do not typically have a government issued ID card. Those most experiencing this lock out of democracy “of the people” are the elderly, the poor, and persons of color. Just one example is a couple nearing 90 years old arrived at their polling place only to be told that their ballot was provisional because they did not have proper ID. They knew the staff at the polls very well, but they did not know of the new law. They got to submit their temporary ballot, but later learned that their votes were later rejected. Similarly, hundreds were blocked from voting in states like Georgia, Tennessee, and Indiana in the recent primary election season. When any one person who is eligible to vote is turned away, every single person should be worried.
We can almost understand why people get discouraged and quit participating. However, we cannot let this stop us; we must revive our democracy and energize voters once again. We must turn the tide of indifference and protect the rights of every single person who is eligible to vote.
The need is great to equip ourselves and our communities to make informed, thoughtful decisions about those who will lead us in the future. We each play a unique role in this election cycle, by encouraging civil, respectful dialogue that builds community and a hope-filled vision of the future that includes all people. We can and should participate in voter education and empowerment programs that help us reflect on our collective life and the common good through the political process. It is our fervent hope that you will connect with members of your local church and community this year through the Our Faith Our Vote Our Voice Campaign (http://www.ucc.org/ourfaithourvote).
The stakes are as high as they have ever been. Now, more than ever, our vote and voice is needed. Together, we can help to restore the soul of democracy.
The United Church of Christ has 5,194 churches throughout the United States. Rooted in the Christian traditions of congregational governance and covenantal relationships, each UCC setting speaks only for itself and not on behalf of every UCC congregation. UCC members and churches are free to differ on important social issues, even as the UCC remains principally committed to unity in the midst of our diversity.