by Randolph T. Holhut
American Reporter Correspondent
May 19, 2016
IN A PROPERLY FUNCTIONING DEMOCRACY, VOTING SHOULD BE EASY TO DO
DUMMERSTON, Vt-- When I became a resident of Vermont in 1989, I went down to the Town Clerk’s office to register to vote, I discovered one didn't just merely register to vote in Vermont. You also had to take an oath.
The Freeman's Oath (now called the Voter's Oath) is part of the Vermont Constitution, which was adopted in 1777, when Vermont was an independent republic. That constitution was the first in the Western Hemisphere to grant universal suffrage to all men, regardless of property ownership
Revised in 2002 to reflect the inclusion of women in the political process, the Voter’s Oath states that "Every person of the full age of eighteen years who is a citizen of the United States, having resided in this State for the period established by the General Assembly and who is of a quiet and peaceable behavior, and will take the following oath or affirmation, shall be entitled to all the privileges of a voter of this state."
If you meet those qualifications, you are then asked by the Town Clerk, or a Justice of the Peace, to take the following oath: "Do you solemnly swear (or affirm) that whenever you give your vote or suffrage, touching any matter that concerns the State of Vermont, you will do it so as in your conscience you shall judge will most conduce to the best good of the same, as established by the Constitution, without fear or favor of any person?"
Vermont is the only state that has a voter's oath, and it's an indication of how seriously we take the right to vote. We are one of only two states - Maine is the other - with no disenfranchisement for people with criminal convictions. We recently lowered the voting age to 17 for voting in local elections and state primaries for young people who will turn 18 by Election Day in November. Early voting periods are generous and obtaining an absentee ballot is easy.
And, on April 27, Vermont joined Oregon, California, and West Virginia to create a system of automatic voter registration.
Under the new Vermont law, eligible citizens will be automatically registered to vote when they visit their local Department of Motor Vehicles office, unless they opt out. The DMV then electronically sends the data to the Secretary of State's office. If a person is eligible to vote, but unregistered, election officials will add that person to the voter rolls immediately.
The bill had near unanimous support from all three political parties in the Legislature. There weren't many reasons not to support it. It helps save money, makes the voter rolls more accurate, and reinforces the Vermont idea that there should be few barriers to exercising one's right to vote.
The Vermont approach seems counterintuitive compared to the Republican-controlled states that are passing laws to make it harder to vote. But that is just one of the many dystopias in America.
If you happen to live in one of the 17 states that passed new restrictions on voting within the past year, you may find it difficult to cast a vote in November if you don't have a valid ID, don't live in the right neighborhood, if you are young, poor, elderly, have a criminal record, or if you have the wrong skin color.
The outdated, error-prone, crazy quilt electoral system that is now the norm in most of the United States prevents millions of people from voting - 1 in 4 eligible citizens aren't on the voting rolls, and 1-in-8 voter registration records are either invalid or contain serious errors.
And it is crystal clear why the Republican-controlled states not only take advantage of this, but make it harder for people to vote. The only way the GOP can win elections is by keeping the young, the poor, the elderly, or people of color away from the polls.
Here in Vermont, the Secretary of State’s office uses this slogan for elections: "Your Vote is Your Voice."
In a democracy, everyone's voice should be heard, and this should not be subject to the whims of whichever political party is in control.
That's why the Vermont standard should be adopted as the national standard for voting. According to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, if automatic, permanent voter registration was adopted nationwide, it would add up to 50 million new eligible voters to the rolls while increasing the accuracy of voter lists and reducing the potential for fraud.
Democracy begins with the right to freely choose your elected leaders. It is well past time for our nation to live up to this principle, and make voting easier to do for every American.
AR's Chief of Correspondents, Randolph T. Holhut, holds an M.P.A. from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and has been an award-winning journalist in New England for more than 35 years. He edited "The George Seldes Reader" (Barricade Books). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.