No One in America Should Have to Wait 7 Hours to Vote

There is no hidden agenda here. The strategy and tactics are as far out in the open as those voters standing in line for hours waiting for their turn to vote. This transparency -- of motive and of evidence -- is also what distinguishes the complaints that Democrats have about Republican tricks on voting from Republican complaints about Democratic tricks on voting. Widespread "in-person" voter fraud or voting by illegal immigrants exists mostly in the minds of conspiracy theorists. Yet proof of voter suppression is visible to all of us with the naked eye. All we have to do is look. There is no political equivalence here -- only more lamentable false equivalence

Indeed, we are all complicit in a regime which forces our fellow citizens to endure those long lines. We are all to blame for allowing men like Jon Husted to determine which Ohioans will have their ballots counted and which will not. We who have the luxury of voting early by mail or who can pop into a polling station on Election Day, who are accustomed to not standing long for anything -- we do nothing about these voter lines even though they are the most visible proof today that America is still terribly divided by race and by class.

In America in 2012, poor people and elderly people and students should not have to wait seven hours to vote. They should not be restricted in this fashion by elected officials who justify the hardships they impart upon black voters by calling those voters "lazy." By allowing this ugliness to endure, year after year, election after election, we don't just subvert our own democracy. We preclude ourselves from turning to the world and proclaiming that we respect the value of a single vote and the dignity of a single voter. We don't practice what we preach.

And we ought to be talking about things now, before Tuesday, because when it's all over no one will care until the next election cycle, at which point it will likely be too late. Don't want to switch Election Day to a Saturday? Fine. Don't want to make it a national holiday? Fine. But doing nothing after the election of 2012 is not an honorable option. What's happening in these states is conclusive proof that America failed to solve the fundamental problems we all saw play out in Florida during the recount of 2000. That's just not good enough.

I asked election-law specialist Rick Hasen, who wrote the book about all of this, for his view on the eve of another dubious election. He told me: "We need national nonpartisan election administration -- one that would pick rules that would allow all eligible voters, but only eligible voters, a fair chance to cast a ballot which will be accurately counted. It is national urgency but I don't see it happening any time soon. If Florida 2000 was not enough of a wake-up call, it is hard to imagine how much worse things would have to get before they get better."

But let us begin. Congress ought to pass a "Voters' Rights Act," which guarantees a mail-in option and ensures significant early-voting hours for 10 days before a federal election. That would give working people -- you know, the real "middle class" -- four full days over two weekends to cast their ballot. Congress also ought to expand the scope of the Voting Rights Act, the venerable civil-rights statute, to force local election officials everywhere in America (and not just in Southern jurisdictions) to justify restrictions on voting rights.

And the next president, whoever he is, ought to quickly empanel another Commission on Federal Election Reform to investigate these partisan state schemes and recommend ways to achieve meaningful reform. Former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O'Connor should head that commission. And former U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald should head up its investigative functions. 


But I won't hold my breath. If I'm around in 2016 I bet I'll be complaining about the same injustices. In my lifetime, little has changed in America but the forms of indignity we all seem to tolerate when it comes to another man's right to vote.
Presented by

Andrew Cohen is a contributing editor at The Atlantic. He is a legal analyst for 60 Minutes and CBS Radio News, a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice, and Commentary Editor at The Marshall Project

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile his neighbor, the patriarch of a 70-acre family farm

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The 86-Year-Old Farmer Who Won't Quit

A filmmaker returns to his hometown to profile the patriarch of a family farm

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

More in Politics

Just In