We are all Americans; but can we all vote?

A person votes at the Arlington Arts Center in Arlington, Va., on Tuesday, November 2, 2021. Virginia is voting for governor, state house and senate races.
Greg Nash

Voting rights are the bedrock of American democracy. As military members and civilian leaders of our military services we defended the security of our own country, but also promoted the growth of democracy in other countries. And for almost 250 years, the example of democracy in the United States has made a difference in the world. But now, in our own country, voting rights are being suppressed. Some of these actions will significantly affect the voting rights of our fellow Americans.

We served our country for decades. We encouraged those with whom we served to participate in our government through the democratic process of voting. It was a leadership goal. American men and women wearing the uniform are on the forward edge of projecting our values around the world. Our service was in support of a country we care about, and to protect the voting rights of service members, their dependents, family members, friends and fellow citizens. We expect the United States to do the right thing for all of us.

But now that expectation is in doubt. Voter suppression is back with a vengeance after being beaten back by the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and subsequent reauthorizations of that law by wide, bipartisan majorities in Congress. Recent actions by some states seek to throw up significant burdens for eligible voters. Some states have enacted or are considering legislation which politicizes the vote counting and reporting processes. These attempts to target certain voters undermine Americans’ voting rights.

The 14th Amendment to the Constitution says, in part, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 

Then there is the 15th Amendment, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude. The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.”

The actions by some states to create barriers to voting, and to politicize the oversight of the voting system, particularly in regions with significant minority populations, clearly both “abridge the privileges” of our fellow citizens and deny the right to vote on account of race. These proposed actions could also make absentee voting more difficult, which will fall disproportionately on military voters and their families. This is a failure to respect the Constitution, and a violation of the principles of equal access to the polls for all eligible voters, accountability of elected officials, and transparency and effective oversight of the electoral system.

Congress must act to block these anti-democratic attempts that make it harder, and in some cases impossible, for everyone to have equal access to the polls, and the effort being made to permit state legislatures to ignore the will of the voters. We urge the Senate to vote to approve the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act.

Steve Abbott is a retired Navy admiral and John Nathman is a retired Navy admiral. Also signing onto the op-ed were Louis Caldera, 17th United States Secretary of the Army; Debbie Lee James, 23rd United States Secretary of the Air Force; General John Jumper, United States Air Force (Retired); Admiral Jim Loy, United States Coast Guard (Retired); Sean O’Keefe, 69th United States Secretary of the Navy; General Tony Zinni, United States Marine Corps (Retired).

Tags 1965 Voting Rights Act Freedom to Vote Act John Lewis John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act Vote by Mail

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