Kay Coles James, The right to vote is among the most sacred rights we have as Americans. It is fundamental to our democracy.
I’m old enough to remember when the mantra about elections was “every vote counts and every vote must be counted.” Now, we keep hearing that election fraud is nothing to worry about so long as it’s not “widespread.”
In fact, I keep hearing anyone who questions the reliability of all-mail voting, or who advocates basic measures to minimize fraud and error, being accused of voter suppression, and election rigging.
Protecting the integrity of our elections should matter toeveryone, because every single instance of it amounts to canceling out a legitimate vote. Ask yourself how you’d feel if that vote were yours.
Yes, it is true that this election season won’t be like any other. We face a global pandemic and in some places, civil unrest. But we cannot let hyper-partisanship overshadow the need to safeguard our elections.
At a moment like this, I think back to the Afghan presidential elections of 2014. Men and women faced threats and violence. They stood in line for hours to cast their ballots in the first democratically held election in 13 years.
After voting, Afghans dipped their finger in ink. Some would later have that finger cut off by the Taliban.
Still, they showed up – even in the face of nightmarish violence. In the next election five years later, many of them would show up – scars and all – to vote again.
Think about that. Think about how important your right to vote is to you, and how sacred or at risk that right is in countries all over the world. Think of the different ways you might lose that right and never take it for granted.
Violence isn’t the only way. Fraud and error will disenfranchise you just as easily.
That’s why simple protections against fraud, like witness signatures on absentee ballots, official postmarks, in-person voting by all who are able, and photo ID at your polling place, make perfect sense if we truly believe that every vote must count.
Right now, most Americans want civil debate and a fair election. They understand what’s at stake and the choice we face. As a lifelong conservative, I truly believe that freedom and opportunity build a better future for all and will win in the marketplace of ideas.
That’s why throughout my life, I’ve worked to achieve election integrity.
I received the Spirit of Democracy Award for Public Policy Leadership from the National Coalition on Black Civic Participation. I also served on the Carter-Baker Commission on Election Reform.
Last year, I joined the Women’s Centennial Suffrage Commission to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of women gaining the right to vote. We marked that important milestone last month.
I have spent my life trying to protect voting rights. I don’t want to discourage anyone from voting.
On Election Day, people who love democracy want to win fair and square – not because someone voted twice, stuffed the ballot box, or “helped” a neighbor by changing a mailed ballot. Or, as occurred in Wisconsin last month, because thousands of absentee ballots were never delivered in time to be counted.
So let’s agree on this: Elections should limit the possibility of error to the greatest extent possible.
Let’s also agree that this election season, everyone must exercise his or her right to vote. And all of us must work together to ensure that the elections are safe and that each vote is counted with the highest level of integrity.
You might even consider acting as a poll worker. It’s hard work but extremely rewarding. Or go encourage 10 of your neighbors, friends, or family to vote. I always say that at the end of the day, if you still have the energy to go to a victory party, you haven’t worked hard enough!
Remember, you and I have an amazing political legacy to uphold. It took three constitutional amendments to ensure none of us would be denied the right to vote: the 15th Amendment because of our race; the 19th because of sex, and the 24th through discriminatory poll taxes.
These are hard-won triumphs that speak to the greatness of our country. Let’s honor them.
I pray that as we head toward this historic election, and at a time of great division, we can come together to make everyone’s vote count.
Kay C. James is president of The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).