President's Letter

Your vote is your voice

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Photo of Judy Perry Martinez © Zack Smith

Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the civic responsibility of all eligible citizens.

As we approach the 2020 presidential election, many Americans are calling it the most consequential of their lifetime. But all elections are important, whether for school boards, local judges, town councils or the U.S. Senate. Elections provide the opportunity for citizens to express their voices and help decide the direction that our leaders should take our country. Each vote is a building block in our democracy. The more people who participate, the stronger our country becomes.

Yet, over the past 50 years, less than 60% of eligible voters have cast a ballot in our national elections, putting us behind most other developed countries. As Thomas Jefferson said, “We do not have government by the majority. We have government by the majority who participate.”

In 2020, we celebrate the 150th anniversary of the 15th Amendment’s ratification, which granted Black men the right to vote. This year we also commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote and produced the largest expansion of democracy in our country’s history. Now is an appropriate time to examine voting rights in America and to cast aside unconstitutional obstacles to voting.

Cyberattacks by foreign nations have made our election process less trusted. Long wait times due to broken voting machines and the closings of polling places have resulted in elections that are less accessible. After the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder removed the preclearance requirements necessary for any changes in laws of jurisdictions with a history of voting discrimination, restrictive election laws were enacted that further limited access.

All people eligible to vote should be able to do so easily, safely and securely. The ABA supports allowing all registered voters to vote absentee, regardless of cause, and urges Congress to develop preclearance criteria removed by the Shelby decision to protect voting rights. And the ABA urges all states to remove barriers to voting for convicted felons and opposes the imposition of fees for the reinstatement of the right to vote. Through our Vote Your Voice and Election Center webpages, the ABA provides valuable state-by-state information on elections and voter registration rules.

Our country needs lawyers to be stalwart advocates for honest, open and fair elections. We can serve as poll workers, volunteer as election advisers, and staff Election Day voter hotlines for those who have questions regarding their right to vote. In these times when we must each demonstrate our commitment to anti-racism and equity, one of the simplest ways to do so is to help people exercise their right to vote.

And as Minnesota Supreme Court Chief Justice Lorie Gildea noted at a recent state bar conference, lawyers’ voices are needed more than ever this election season. Many lawyers will have the chance to speak to those seeking local office. “There is no better time to talk to elected officials and candidates about the importance of our justice system than when they are asking for your vote,” Gildea said, adding that state policymakers must “know that the bench and bar are united behind a high-functioning, accessible, independent and adequately funded justice system.”

Voting is a right that must never be taken for granted. It should be accorded the passion it deserves from us all. One of the most comforting parts of my journey as ABA president is knowing that the very things that stir passion and advocacy in me also inspire those who will follow in service. I know incoming ABA President Trish Refo, my friend and sister in the law, will take up the passions that drive us as lawyers. Not only do I wish her the best, but I also know she will do more and better than those who came before her.

This story was originally published in the August-September 2020 issue of the ABA Journal under the headline: “Your Voice is Your Vote: Americans need to participate in elections that are fair, trusted and accessible.”

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