Making Democracy Work

Hallie Fox of the Middlebury Roosevelt Institution

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So far, the 2008 presidential hopefuls have raised unprecedented campaign funds. With over a year to go before the election, candidates are already hitting the road to rally votes, raise money, and debate our nation’s most pressing issues: immigration, health care, the war in Iraq, global warming, and homeland security, to name a few.

Yet absent from the debate is one of the most pressing issues facing our nation: voting. The very nature of our political system rests on the democratic participation of our citizens. Although we have historically precluded minorities, women, and felons from voting, one would assume that today all are given an equal opportunity to cast their ballots. Wrong.

An estimated 5 million Americans are in jail and thus have lost the fundamental right to participate in the political process. African American men make up 1.5 million of this number. As a result, 13% of black men in America have lost the right to vote. Even after Florida’s disastrous “purge” scandals in 2000 and 2004, little has been done to reform our flawed and inconsistent voting system that deprives these felons of their constitutional right to vote. Many of these citizens have been wrongly accused or “lost in the filing process,” and as a result have unjustly lost one of their most important and fundamental rights as American citizens.

These numbers do not even take into account the number of American citizens who have not lost their right to vote but do not know how, have not been contacted to register, or believe they are not eligible to vote. As Americans, it is our civic responsibility to make democracy work.

Despite the Help America Vote Act of 2002, little has been done to insure accountability of election officials, purge lists, and notification of individuals on their voting status. For example, in a 15-state study conducted by the ACLU, Demos, and Right to Vote, not one state has codified any specific set of criteria for its officials to use in ensuring that an individual with a felony conviction is the same individual being purged from the voter rolls. Two thirds of the states surveyed do not even require that election officials notify voters when they are purged from voter rolls.

I ask you, Middlebury, how many of you accurately filled out your absentee ballot, sent in your votes, and tracked the results last election cycle? A friend of mine even reported submitting her information to Middlebury’s own ”Get Out the Vote” campaign with hopes of receiving an absentee ballot. She was met with an empty mailbox.

It is our duty to hold our government accountable. So before it is too late, I challenge you to make democracy work. Make our voting system fair, educate our fellow citizens on the importance of voting, and most importantly, don’t forget to exercise your own right to vote.

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