My first active role in Glendale politics was a little more than seven years ago. There seemed to be a lot more at stake. Control of local boards and commissions appeared not to reflect the needs of the community and catered to special interests that had money to invest in political campaigns.
There was something wrong with the system. Many reforms were implemented with regard to campaign finance, which helped, but the realization by candidates and appointed city officials that they were accountable was the real force for change.
One of the changes came from fear that the election process itself was corrupted and needed reform, that some well-organized segments of our community were manipulating the process by helping people fill out ballots or stuffing mailboxes with absentee ballots under assumed names.
Despite the fact that there was no evidence to support these fears, they were nonetheless prevalent and were part of the political dialogue.
They were plausible fears, and I thought some of the proposed solutions sounded reasonable, but in retrospect they were based in the baseless sentiments that undermine our democracy: that too many of the wrong type of people are voting.
That too many of any of us are voting isn’t the problem. The problem is that not enough of us are. In the world’s most prominent functioning democracy, the level to which we support the principles of participation is pathetic. If anything, the members of our community who were going door-to-door and registering voters were more authentically American than most of the rest of us. The only voter registration card I turned in was my own.
Voter participation and manipulating the process is now a political tool to undermine our representative form of government, the foundation of our democracy. The fears and mistrust that cropped up in Glendale’s municipal elections are the same played upon by states trying to change the rules by which citizens are able to participate in elections.
Eighteen states have enacted laws restricting participation in the democratic process. They seem quite reasonable on the surface, predicated on unfounded rumors of voter fraud. They are, in fact, undermining everything that this country is supposed to stand for — that we are all equal before the law, that we are all entitled to participate based on the simple fact of our birth or naturalization.
There are no religious tests, income requirements, property rights or political affiliation requirements for access to the ballot box. Any impediment to the process is un-American.
It is easy to rationalize things like voter ID requirements, because most of us possess driver’s licenses.
But if we step out of our own shoes, we would understand that what we take for granted isn’t true for everyone. Not everyone has a driver’s license or can easily get a birth certificate. Getting certified copies of my birth certificate — a requirement for our adoptions — was not simple, requiring online access and a credit card.
We cannot assume that everyone is like us. People have different challenges and struggles just to participate in our economy. These struggles should never restrict their right to exercise their fundamental right as citizens.
Restricting access to the polls, shortening early voting opportunities, putting Florida school teachers in jail for collecting students’ voter registration cards and requiring ID of voters who have voted in the same place for decades is immoral and un-American.
In an era where income inequality and political power is coalescing around corporations and individuals with massive fortunes and suspect political agendas, we need to make voting easier, not harder.
An active democracy is the only way to ensure we get the government we deserve.
MICHAEL TEAHAN is a business owner and lives in Glendale. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.