Our Right, Our Vote

Our Right, Our Vote

Reposted from: treehuggersintl.com .
Reposted from: treehuggersintl.com .

It is time we ensure every Marylander the right to vote. This past Election Day, some voters stood in line for hours only to find they had been kicked off the voter rolls, and there was no option for them to register at the polls to cast a ballot that counts. A reasoned corrective is now within reach in Annapolis. Recently, the Maryland Senate  passed  legislation introduced by Governor O’Malley (SB 279/HB 224) that would allow Marylanders to register to vote and cast a ballot during the early voting period, expand early voting hours and locations, and offer voters to chance to sign up for absentee ballots online. Many faith and community leaders, I among them, have indicated support for the Governor’s proposal and call for the bills’ swift approval by the legislature.

Founded in 1925, Douglas Memorial Community Church has been committed to transformative social policies and equal participation in the benefits of citizenship for all people. Our ministry, along with many others, supports progressive legislation that endeavors to insure that all eligible voters have a voice in the electoral process. During the most recent general election, many faith leaders encouraged their members to participate in the electoral process and fulfill their responsibilities as citizens during the early voting window. Many of my members embraced the opportunity to vote early on the one Sunday that early voting was available. The faith community called that Sunday “Souls to the Polls Sunday.” We used our church buses  as well as carpools for our members to vote in their respective jurisdictions in advance of the general election day. What we found was that many members had to wait long hours to early vote in Baltimore City, while others found the locations of some of the limited number of sites in other jurisdictions challenging.  Yet, the privilege of voting that had been denied many in former generations was too important to allow waiting or inconvenience to discourage fulfilling our citizenship responsibility. So, we waited, and waited, and waited until our privileges and duties had been satisfied.

In November 2008, the state of Maryland approved a constitutional amendment to allow early voting. starting with the primary elections in 2010. Currently, we are able to vote early at the polls, as well as cast an absentee ballot by mail. The amendment was a step in the right direction, with the intent to provide a larger window for citizens to vote, which could decrease the wait in line on Election Day.

Even with 2008 amendment, Maryland has one of the shortest voting windows in the country. Governor O’Malley’s bill (SB 279/HB 224) would add about 44 hours of early voting over an eight-day period during presidential elections. In all primary elections and gubernatorial general elections, it would add about 34 hours. And research suggests that allowing eligible citizens to register during early voting would significantly increase voter participation, so that more Marylanders are part of the democratic process.  

As we look forward to future elections, we should anticipate and make available generous access to the polling place during the early voting window. By increasing the number of early voting sites and extending the early voting period, citizens won’t have to choose between skipping work and voting, or, if a college student, going to class and voting. Additionally, by allowing persons with appropriate proof of residency to register and vote during the early voting periods, the availability of the voting opportunity is enhanced for all citizens. Our elections, whether local, state or national in scope, are too critical for any citizen to be denied the opportunity to cast a ballot. 

It is time to fix a system that is often too restrictive and punitive to persons who simply wish to exercise their citizenship right. We can no longer allow eligible voters to be turned away after extended waits in line or an inability to register to vote. Rather, our voting system needs to be more free, more fair, and more accessible to ensure every Marylander has a say in our democratic process.