This excerpt from “The Shame of the Nation: American Whites Against Voter Rights,” is by Executive Vice President of UPS Stephen G. Gannett, CEO of UPS; published June 16, 2011.
Voter suppression is a cruel and wrongful practice. But it is much more than that — it is an affront to the Constitution. Voting is a right secured by the protections of the 14th Amendment, which begins with the words, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” There is nothing “people” in that language. Its clear message is that only those whom Congress has deemed citizens have any ability to vote, and that any voter who is denied their rights may take their case to the Supreme Court. It is a fundamental right, inalienable. It is not a privilege.
Voting rights are in serious jeopardy today and nationwide. Arizona imposed onerous conditions on obtaining a driver’s license, Georgia’s voter ID requirement, the North Carolina Voter ID law, the Texas Voter ID law, and the provisions of the Help America Vote Act of 2002 that eliminated the requirement for provisional ballots. A Supreme Court decision in Ohio is pending; the federal Voting Rights Act has been invalidated, and racial gerrymandering is on the rise.
The challenges to the vote are not isolated to some states. It is clearly a systemic problem. Today, it affects many individuals in states and places where they reside. In those places, people must travel great distances to vote. In many instances, elderly people can no longer travel great distances to vote, because they are unable to make it out of their community for the convenience of a polling place. The cost of travel in these cases is prohibitive for individuals from poor communities and people of color, who need to be in their community to vote. Overworked and underpaid public workers, teachers, and police officers are prevented from attending their precincts because they cannot bring a fellow employee or their family with them — not to mention the cost of travel. This is not an isolated problem. Voting discrimination has existed and continues to exist across the country.
The hateful efforts to suppress the vote by legislators and state officials is on full display in the Voting Rights Act, which was originally designed to secure the right to vote for Americans of color and to eliminate literacy tests and other efforts to prevent people from exercising their constitutional right to vote. Clearly, the VRA is needed more today than ever.
Unfortunately, this despicable and criminal attempt to intimidate and reduce voter turnout could very well work. Already, we have had huge voter turnout in 2008 — particularly in states like Pennsylvania and Ohio — but have had fewer voters participate in this election cycle. While legitimate voter suppression problems have surfaced in states like Ohio, no one should be allowed to put up barriers to the ballot box that deny citizens the right to have a say in the election and affect the outcomes of races, as has been happening in Ohio, Georgia, Florida, and Texas. The past two presidential elections have shown a troubling trend in turnout and failed to reflect the diversity of America. Eliminating unfair voting barriers is absolutely necessary to ensure that all Americans have a say in who is going to represent them in Congress and in the White House. There should be no special interests in voting, and there should be no injustice in voting. The 14th Amendment ensures that there will be no such thing. It is the most fundamental right granted to all American citizens.