Register your right
Letter to the Editor | Tuesday, March 20, 2018
On March 7th, 1965, approximately 600 people peacefully marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. Their goal: expand the franchise to African-Americans across the South and fight unconstitutional barriers to the ballot box through nonviolent protest. The marchers, however, were met with hate and violence, billy clubs and tear gas. Through adversity, they resisted injustice, their efforts culminating in the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the expansion of voting rights to African-Americans across the country. In Indiana today, we are once against called to resist. Our constitutional right to vote is under assault, and new barriers to the ballot box are being erected.
Since November 8th, 2016, Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson has removed 485,321 voters from Indiana’s registration roles, over ten percent of voters statewide. Violating the National Voter Registration Act and stepping over county voter clerks, Lawson’s voter purge targeted those who had not responded to postcards and not voted in the last two elections. While the presumption is that purged voters have moved or changed their names, we have to ask: how many people were merely not paying attention? How many citizens missed the mailing, or never received it? How many voters will show up on election day to discover that their voter registration has been invalidated? In St. Joseph county alone, 27,888 voters, almost 15 percent of the county’s registered voters, were removed from the rolls. And, the voters who were affected live disproportionately in communities of color. The right to vote is an inherent one to American citizens, not one that must be continually used to maintain. In a state that boasted the lowest voter turnout in the nation in 2014, we should be fighting to expand enfranchisement, not perpetuate the purging of rights of our most targeted communities.
This purge was part of a systemic, Republican led, movement to prevent Hoosiers from exercising their right to vote. In April of 2017, Secretary Lawson and the Indiana State Legislature passed SB 442. It authorizes the state to purge people off of the voter rolls using the Kansas Crosscheck program, a system which has been shown to be incorrect 99 percent of the time. Under the law, Indiana counties can now cancel voter registrations after the Crosscheck program — which has been decried by voting scholars and faces multiple lawsuits — determines a voter has moved, and counties are also no longer obligated to send the requisite written confirmation or wait the two general elections before acting. By removing voters from the rolls without providing the required notice, response opportunity and waiting period and by utilizing a fraudulent program in a manner that is not uniform, reasonable and nondiscriminatory, SB 442 is in blatant violation of the National Voter Registration Act.
This is not merely a conversation on the law. It is a fundamental challenge to the most simple civic right of hundreds of thousands of Indiana citizens. Voting, especially for marginalized communities, has never been easy, but it is clear that we are witnessing a history of disenfranchisement repeat itself. If we do not push back, more and more Hoosiers will lose their right to vote.
In response to these attacks on our democracy, Register Your Right St. Joseph County was established. Our goal is to re-register the 28,000 people who were purged in St. Joseph County through a community-wide canvassing effort on March 24-25th. To get involved, first, attend the on-campus voter registration training event on March 20th in the Geddes Coffee House, and then, sign up to re-register voters. Re-registration is the first step in creating political consequences for abridging the right that “no American, true to our principles, can deny.” The right to vote.
The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.