Reviews | The Next Step in a Long March: Expanding Mobile Voting to DC

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Martin Luther King III is a global human rights activist and president of the Drum Major Institute.

Everything my father, the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr., fought for is under attack. In some ways things have gotten worse since my daughter was born than they were when Dad was alive. The rights that are dear to Americans are attacked across the country. Reproductive rights, the ability to be our whole selves, and the very pillars of our democracy are weakening every day.

It is no coincidence that the erosion of our civil liberties has coincided with the rollback of voting rights in states across the country. When my father marched for equality decades ago, he understood that the right to vote was a necessary part of the fight for freedom and equality. Those on the other side know that too, which is why they have consistently made it harder for Americans to vote. Eligibility requirements, polling places, and polling hours have all been manipulated to prevent too many Americans from being able to vote. In my state of Georgia they even made one crime of giving water to people queuing to vote.

Our democracy is in crisis. That is why we have mobilized this year to push for new federal voting rights legislation to ensure that the right to vote is not just an aspiration but a reality, and to ensure that every eligible voter, regardless of race, ethnicity or location, can access and vote on a ballot knowing it matters. But we don’t have to wait for Congress to act. Efforts are being made across the country to expand access to the ballot, including in the nation’s capital.

The DC Council is considering legislation to make voting easier and more accessible by adding a mobile voting option for all voters. This bill would remove barriers to access and make it much easier for everyone to fully participate in our democratic process by allowing voting from smartphones, tablets or computers.

In a country that seems to be taking too many steps backwards when it comes to civil liberties and voting rights, DC has the potential to take a huge leap forward. Mobile voting would make our nation’s capital a beacon of light and a shining city on a hill for the right to vote. Those of us who defend freedom have spent much of the last six years fighting against attacks on our civil liberties. This bill gives us the opportunity to fight for something — an expansion of access to the vote that could be the model for the whole country.

Mobile voting could also eliminate a very real cancer that plagues our democracy: chronically low turnout, especially among groups that are historically underrepresented in the corridors of power. Mobile voting would mean no more long queues with people fainting in the heat or from exhaustion or lack of water. No hassled parents carrying tired toddlers to the polls who would rather be at home. No hourly workers who struggle to miss work or who have to sacrifice income to vote and make sure their vote is counted.

We already live much of our daily lives on our smartphones, from paying our bills to accessing healthcare. Mobile voting would allow voters from all over DC to easily access and cast their ballot. Not surprisingly, the bill already has the deep support of many civil rights groups in DC and the support of a majority of the DC Council.

Why not increase voter turnout to give everyone a chance to be heard? Why not ease the barriers for low-income voters and help hourly workers? Why don’t we remove the barriers faced by voters with disabilities who find it extremely difficult to get to the polls on election day? Shouldn’t they have the same right to vote as everyone else?

We need more cities and states across the country to follow DC’s lead and consider legislation to expand voting options and make it easier — not harder — to vote, including with mobile voting. Our democracy is too important to allow the forces that seek to strip us of our rights to win. We are fighting to protect voting rights and expand access to voting, and the DC Council should embrace mobile voting as soon as possible to join this fight.

Casey J. Nelson