Throughout my time working at B’nai B’rith, I have written about a variety of topics that impact older Americans, ranging from gun reform laws, climate change, health care, social security, student debt and so forth. However, in recent years, there are few topics that inspire as much passion as voting rights. I have written blogs entitled, “Long Lines at Polling Stations During a Pandemic: It’s Time to Expand Voting from Home” and “Seniors and Voter Identification Laws” both of which advocate for greater access for seniors to the ballot box.
As many people are aware, several states have started debating and passing legislation that further regulates older Americans’ access to voting. For example, Wisconsin, Texas, Florida and Georgia have all either passed or are debating legislation that will make voting problematic. Many of these bills reduce the number of drop boxes, make absentee voting more difficult, ban drive through voting, limit assistance at the polls and forbid election officials from sending unsolicited ballots to people’s homes.
A central theme for these bills is that people with mobility issues are going to have a more difficult time participating in our elections. According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, about 11.2 million people age 65 and older have self-reported travel-limiting disabilities. Legislation that increases the likelihood seniors will have to needlessly wait online to vote will only discourage people from participating in our democracy.
For example, recently passed legislation by the Wisconsin legislature requires an “indefinitely confined” individual’s absentee ballots to be returned by a family member who lives in the state, if such a person exists. This still applies even if your only family member lives on the opposite side of the state. Governor Tony Evers has indicated he is likely to veto this legislation.
In Texas, legislators are debating making it a felony, punishable by jail time, to send absentee ballot applications to voters who didn’t request one. In the last election, Texas counties sent voters 65 and older mail-in ballots unprompted. Governor Greg Abbott has indicated that he intends to sign the final bill into law.
In Florida, a recently signed law restricts drop boxes from being open 24/7. Instead the drop boxes’ hours will coincide with a county’s early voting hours so the boxes can be monitored at all times. Also, some groups are concerned the law would prohibit them from passing out food and water to people in line to vote, so as to not influence voters.
While protecting the integrity of our elections is an important objective, evidence demonstrates voter fraud is not a problem in our country. According to the New York Times, after the 2020 election, they reached out to election officials in every state, and 49 states reported no “major voting issues.” While Texas didn’t formally respond, Harris County, the largest county in Texas, reported only a few small issues and indicated that “we had a very seamless election.”
In Georgia, the secretary of state’s office reported that, during our last presidential election, not one single case of fraud was discovered during an audit of over 15,000 absentee ballots.
Presently, these bills are being challenged in court. For instance, disability rights groups in Georgia are arguing that the state’s legislation violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Constitution and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Also, the Justice Department is suing Georgia on the grounds the law is discriminatory against Black voters.
In Florida, the Alliance for Retired Americans is joining with other groups to legally challenge the state’s new voting law. “This law will make it more difficult for millions of Florida citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote,” said Bill Sauers, president of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans. “Older Floridians take the right to vote seriously, and we will fight any attempt to keep our voices from being heard.”
“These bills are in seek of a problem that does not exist in the state of Wisconsin,” said State Sen.. Melissa Agard, of Madison. “They’re making it harder for our friends and neighbors across the state to vote, especially our seniors, especially our people with disabilities, especially people of color.” This quote from Agard crystalizes the problem with the states’ decisions to enact new voting laws.
Why make it more difficult particularly for seniors and disabled Americans who are least able to vote when it seems clear that our elections are not being threatened by voter fraud?
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