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Bill Press: Make voting easier

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Call it patriotism or call it pride, but everybody who’s ever been elected to any office, be it dogcatcher, mayor or member of Congress, thinks about his or her legacy. “What will I be remembered for?”

So, will somebody please explain to me what tormented logic would lead anyone to conclude: “I want to be remembered for making it harder for Americans to vote?” 

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That’s exactly what’s going on today, in state after state, as red-state Republican legislators place new restrictions on voting, while a misguided Congress either enables their efforts or looks the other way.

Let’s start with the fact that voting is our most sacred right as Americans. We can’t all run for office, walk precincts in election season or make a campaign contribution. But we can all vote. It’s how we exercise our responsibility as citizens. How sad, then, that on average, only 60 percent of Americans bother to vote in presidential elections. Only 40 percent vote in midterm races. In most other developed nations, it’s 80-90 percent.

There are many reasons people decide not to vote, from bad weather to disgust with politics to feeling like it doesn’t make any difference which party wins. Those factors we can’t control. But one of the biggest factors, and one we can control, is ease of voting. 

Historically, starting with the Constitution, which limited voters to white male property owners, the United States has made it harder, not easier, for citizens to vote. We require people to register to vote before they’re eligible to vote. We hold elections only on Tuesdays, when most people are working. 

But it recent years, that’s started to change. 

States have experimented with several long overdue ways to make it easier for people to vote, like extending early voting over several days or weeks, including weekends; increasing the number of polling places and workers; allowing people to register and vote on the same day in the same place; giving high school students the opportunity to preregister to vote; and urging employers to give workers time off to vote.

But it’s these prodemocratic, pro-American reforms that are being rolled back in red states. North Carolina recently eliminated same-day voter registration. Ohio reduced early voting by one week. Wisconsin banned voting on weekends. According to The New York Times, since January 2013, nine states have adopted measures making it harder to vote. Republican legislators and governors insist such restrictions are necessary to protect against widespread voter fraud, of which there’s zero evidence. Their real goal is to suppress the vote in poor and minority communities, where people are more likely to vote Democratic. 

Voting rights should not be a partisan matter. This is one issue that should unite, not divide, Republicans and Democrats. Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I still believe that the more people who vote, the better a country we are. What could be more un-American than making it harder for people to vote?

Press is host of “The Bill Press Show” on Free Speech TV and author of The Obama Hate Machine.