What’s Next MOV: Democracy is not a spectator game | News, Sports, Jobs

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We all know from personal experience that life isn’t fair. I was born in the United States, the granddaughter of immigrant coal miners, and many people had a more prosperous start in life. But I wasn’t born in Haiti or Burundi or Somalia. I always had what I needed, if not always what I wanted. The same situation applies to this country. While the vast majority of us–though not all–are in better shape than the citizens of Somalia, there are huge discrepancies in our conditions. If voting is the foundation of our democratic system, given our differing conditions, how do we make sure voting is readily available to all?

A supremely important bill is being considered by the Senate in the next days, The Freedom to Vote Act. The bill would create a more uniform voting system while keeping the responsibility of managing elections in the hands of states and localities. Just as I support special parking to accommodate people with disabilities, I support expanded voting hours, early voting, and mail-in voting because it ensures that people who are ill, who are working, and who have limited transportation can have their vote counted, even though as a retired person I can drive anywhere and vote anytime. It’s the right thing to do if our value is that people have a right to weigh in on the decisions that affect their lives. Three quarters of West Virginians, and Americans, want to see these provisions enacted so that the rules are the same from state to state and voting is easy and also secure.

The Senate’s inequality of representation is baked into the Constitution and is unlikely to change, so that protection of minority rights will always exist, but the existence of the filibuster means the 30% will always get what they want. This is fundamentally unfair, un-American, and a bad example for our communities. What if there were a county filibuster rule, and the rural unincorporated parts of Wood County could overrule what Parkersburg or Vienna or Williamstown city councils needed to do?

The Freedom to Vote Act has not been allowed to even come up for a vote because of an old Senate rule, not in the Constitution, called the filibuster. The filibuster has an ugly history of being used to deny the descendants of slaves equal rights. While part of its purpose may have been to ensure that the rights of small states were not outvoted by populous states, the balance has tipped too far. Currently Democratic senators represent nearly 40 million more voters than Republican senators. We know West Virginia is losing population to regions with more opportunity. Because of these population movements, by 2040, 70% of Americans are expected to live in the 15 largest states, and to be represented by only 30 senators, while 30% of Americans will have 70 senators voting on their behalf, according to David Birdsell of Baruch College’s School Of Public And International Affairs.

Story Highlights

  • We all know the call to action in the Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.” Americans have been working out the meaning of that statement ever since. Participating in making the decisions that affect our lives through voting is the most basic right we have, the one that protects all the others. Our experience of the recent elections has demonstrated that our election system needs a serious overhaul

  • The idea that we need to treat everyone the same for things to be fair sounds right on the surface, but in reality, accommodations often have to be made. Just as in a community conversation where we need to know everyone’s point of view to come up with solutions that work, everyone needs to be able to vote, whatever their condition, so we can address the future successfully. Voting is about the future, what we want it to be.

We can’t change the future without doing it together, as the years of national stalemate have shown.

When What’s Next MOV sponsored community conversations about the opioid crisis, we had people in recovery, drug addicts and dealers, probation officers and judges, and family members of all ages listening to each other. New ideas to really solve the opioid epidemic came to light. We need to talk and listen to people with different experiences than our own. We need a greater range of people making decisions than those who got us in this stalemate, and a critical place to start is by reforming our voting system.

Contact our senators before Jan. 17 when changes in the Senate filibuster rules are expected to be considered and encourage them to vote for the Freedom to Vote Act and to reform the filibuster. ***

Jean Ambrose lives in Walker and is co chair of What’s Next MOV.

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