Law Day 2014: A 50-year look back at voting barriers and the democratic process

  • Published
  • By Capt. Sarah Kress
  • JAG AEDC Legal Office
It's early October and the year is 2016. You are deployed in support of a humanitarian operation in Eastern Europe.

Even though it's not quite Election Day in the United States, you made sure to request an absentee ballot several weeks in advance. You return to your office to see it sitting on top of your mail. Without hesitation, you fill it out, return it to the envelope, and drop it back in the mail. And just like that, you cast your vote.

About a month later you turn on the news to watch the coverage from Election Day. You can't help but get distracted by the news coverage - particularly the discussion on absentee voter ballots. Some commentators suggest the future of absentee ballots is less than certain. They cite recent controversies from previous election years as proof that our system of absentee voting is broke, in need of repair, and possibly elimination.
Even though you made a timely ballot request, completed the ballot, and returned it to your state of registration, you can't help but think to yourself: did my vote count?

On the first day of May we celebrate Law Day. This year's Law Day Theme is, "American Democracy and the Rule of Law: Why Every Vote Matters."

The intent is to call on Americans to reflect on the importance of the right to vote and the challenges we still face in ensuring that all Americans have the opportunity to participate in our democracy.

This year also marks the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Much time has passed since the enactment of these laws. In that time we've grown as a nation, not only in the eyes of the law, but culturally and socially as well. Despite such progress, news stories similar to the fictional one described above still irritate our democratic process.

As Americans we are not strangers to voter barriers. It is part of our history. We study these historic events to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the democratic process because we recognize that voter barriers harm not only the voter, but our system of representative government as a whole.

Although modern day barriers to voting may not be as obvious as the Jim Crow laws of the early 20th century, they are no less insidious. This year on Law Day we encourage all voters to remember this important right and to be vigilant in protecting its integrity.