Voting Rights Completely Ignored at Monday’s Presidential Debate

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Analysis Politics

Voting Rights Completely Ignored at Monday’s Presidential Debate

Ally Boguhn

Though 14 states this fall will experience new voting restrictions for the first time in a presidential election, there was no mention of voting rights or registration during Monday night’s debate.

Millions of people may not be able to cast ballots when voters take to the polls to decide their next president thanks to a rash of voting restrictions across the country.

You wouldn’t know it based on Monday night’s presidential debate.

The oversight came one day shy of National Voter Registration Day. The event, held on the fourth Tuesday of September, is a “single day of coordinated field, technology and media efforts” meant to help register eligible voters.

Though 14 states this fall will experience voting restrictions for the first time in a presidential election, there was no mention of voting rights or registration during the debate. Even as issues of income inequality and racial justice came up, both the candidates and moderator Lester Holt failed to mention pervasive voting restrictions.

These new restrictions are “part of a broader movement to curtail voting rights, which began after the 2010 election, when state lawmakers nationwide started introducing hundreds of harsh measures making it harder to vote,” as the Brennan Center for Justice’s website explains.

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The organization says that 20 states have implemented new restrictions since 2010.

Millions of other people are affected by these and other voter restrictions, including the 5.8 million people in the United States who cannot vote because of a felony conviction.  

Nearly 50 million eligible voters did not cast ballots during the 2012 election because they weren’t registered. According to the Center for Popular Democracy, registration is a major barrier to voting, and while “whites disproportionately reported not registering because they were ‘not interested in elections or politics,’ other racial and ethnic groups were more likely to have not registered because of difficulties with the registration process.”

It isn’t as if access to the polls and hasn’t been an issue on both sides of the aisle this election season. Both major party nominees have brought up the topic on the campaign trail, and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton has made clear that the voting and registration process should be made easier.

Clinton blasted Republican-led efforts to suppress the vote in a May op-ed published in Wisconsin’s Journal Sentinel. “From Alabama to South Carolina, to Texas, state legislatures are working hard to limit access to the voting booth,” Clinton wrote. “And since it’s clear we now have to be vigilant everywhere, as president, I would push for taking several additional actions at the national level.”

Clinton in the op-ed called for voting reforms that would expand access to the polls, such as restoring the Voting Rights Act protections gutted by the Supreme Court in its 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder that had ensured states with a history of voter discrimination “pre-clear” new voting laws.

Clinton proposed universal voting registration when citizens turn 18 and “a new national standard of 20 days of early in-person voting everywhere.”

Clinton made a similar pitch during a June 2015 speech, noting that voting restrictions disproportionately disenfranchise people of color and those with low incomes.

“We have a responsibility to say clearly and directly what’s really going on in our country,” Clinton said last June, according to MSNBC. “[W]hat is happening is a sweeping effort to dis-empower and disenfranchise people of color, poor people, and young people from one end of our country to the other.”

GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump has taken a decidedly different approach to tackling voting rights, instead embracing conservative conspiracy theories and debunked assertions about widespread voter fraud influencing elections.

“I don’t like what’s going on with voter ID,” Trump told the Washington Post in August, likely referring to recent court rulings against discriminatory voter identification laws.

“I mean the voter ID situation has turned out to be a very unfair development,” Trump said. “We may have people vote 10 times. It’s inconceivable that you don’t have to show identification in order to vote or that that the identification doesn’t have to be somewhat foolproof.”

Trump, of course, makes no mention of the financial and physical barriers many people face when obtaining a form of identification. And though both Trump and the 2016 Republican platform suggest voter fraud is a real problem, there is no evidence to back that up.

Many investigations, analyses, and court rulings have all come to the same conclusion: there is no such thing as widespread voter fraud in the United States.

Not to mention that many Republican legislators have been transparent about their true aims in pushing restrictive voting measures. Rep. Glenn Grothman (R-WI) said in April that Wisconsin’s law could “make a little bit of a difference as well” for the GOP in November.

Given the widespread effect of voting restrictions and the fact that both candidates have made the topic an issue this year, this is an issue that shouldn’t be omitted from the debate stage.