Anniversaries – of any kind – cause us to ponder where we’ve been and where we’re going.
The 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which our nation commemorated on Saturday, is a case in point.
Those who lived through poll taxes and literacy tests – the heinous practices used by election officials decades ago to discourage blacks from voting – will testify to the significance of the Voting Rights Act.
This landmark federal legislation not only gave minorities greater access to the electoral process – which is their constitutional right – it also gave them a louder voice in local, state and national politics.
If our history teaches us anything, it teaches us that we must continue to work to ensure access for all Americans at the polls.
Toward this objective, Congress should renew the Voting Rights Act, which expires in 2007.
All aspects of the voting process – from registration to casting absentee ballots to voting on election day – should be made as user-friendly as possible.
Access to the electoral process is vitally important. But access is only part of the equation.
The other part of the equation is accountability: 1) ensuring that every vote is counted; and 2) that every person who casts a ballot on election day is who they say they are.
Regarding the former, the Help America Vote Act – signed into law by President Bush in 2002 – requires all states to replace outdated voting machines with state-of-the-art equipment by 2006. Mississippi Secretary of State Eric Clark is currently implementing this much-needed reform in the Magnolia State.
Regarding the latter, it’s time for Mississippi to adopt a voter ID provision.
There are some who argue that any form of voter identification harkins back to a bygone era – of poll taxes and literacy tests.
However, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, we know that the Mississippi of 2004 is a lot different than the Mississippi of 1964.
There are now legal processes in place to protect the rights of voters and ensure access to the voting booth for all Mississippians.
In the event these rights are denied, offenders can be called to account for their actions.
Additionally, ensuring the integrity of the voting booth is a proper – and well-established – function of government.
In fact, our elected officials have an ethical obligation to guarantee – to the best of their ability – that every vote cast in an election is legitimate.
Everyone who votes in an election should be required to show a valid identification. Mississippians are required to show an ID to perform any number of daily activities: cash or write a check, purchase tobacco or alcohol, attend an R-rated movie, etc.
To settle for less when we vote is to “dumb down” the electoral process.