by Ngozi J. Nezianya, JD/MBA Candidate, Northwestern University; President, ACS Student Chapter at Northwestern University School of Law; Next Generation Leader and Student Member, ACS National Board of Directors
Imagine a world in which registering to vote took only a simple form and no more than a few minutes of your time. Imagine a world in which the myriad ways that our government entities use to identify you could ensure that you get a say in exactly who does the verifying. Imagine a world in which casting your ballot could be completed on your way to work, on your lunch break or on your way home before you pick up the kids from school.
Such a utopia need not be reserved for the depths of our imagination. In fact, for some in our country, much of this is already a reality. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia currently offer online voter registration and five states automatically place their citizens onto voter rolls whenever they interact with government agencies. In the last presidential election, the average time it took to vote actually fell across the country – from 16.7 minutes back in 2008 to 13.3 minutes in 2012.
Yet, despite those positive developments, one need only scratch the surface of these rosy data to reveal the discordant truths that coexist in our democratic process. Seven states maintain strict laws that require forms of photo identification that 11 percent of eligible voters do not have. Federal law requires states to maintain updated voter registration lists; however, when those laws result in the purges of millions of citizens from the rolls every two years, various states and their officials seem to disproportionately remove the poor, mistakenly remove Asian and Hispanic voters because they matched their surnames to the wrong people and in some cases outright intimidate black voters by sending police officers door-to-door to challenge those voters’ registrations. (And those are not even the most egregious purges.) Lastly, countless stories have documented how the closure of polling locations in heavily populated voting districts and the shortening of early voting periods across the country have caused citizens to wait up to five and seven hours in the blistering sun to exercise a right that the Supreme Court, dating back to 1966, had previously deemed “fundamental.” In other words, the extraordinary degree of variance at the other end of the voting experience skews our democratic process toward dystopia.