New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand On the Importance of the Black Vote

Photo by Melina Mara/The Washington Post via Getty Images
We can’t afford to wait until the system is fixed before you make your voice heard. Whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Senate depends on what happens on November 4th.

Open a newspaper, turn on the TV, or browse the news online, and on any given day, you’ll see images from countries around the world where men and women are fighting in the streets for the right to vote. Those pictures are a reminder of what happened earlier in our history, right here in this country. For decades, African-Americans and women in the United States risked getting locked up, beaten, or worse, in their fight for the right to vote and to participate in democracy.

This is not ancient history. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the landmark Voting Rights Act, which is still under attack. Last year, in an enormous setback, the Supreme Court struck down a cornerstone provision of the VRA. We have seen states like Texas and Wisconsin move forward with discriminatory laws ranging from requiring state IDs to redistricting and reducing early voting.

Voting is a sacred right, and ensuring that every vote counts is a cornerstone of our democracy that must be embraced by both sides of the aisle. But it also means that everyone has to actually get out and vote.

In the 2012 election, when Barack Obama was running for his second term, there were a staggering 33 million unregistered voters. That’s 15 percent of all eligible Americans who did not participate in the election. As for voter drop-off from the last presidential election, the Voter Participation Center predicts that 6.5 million African Americans who voted in 2012 will stay home on Tuesday.

Moving forward, we must all work hard to reduce this number. Instead of placing burdens on potential voters, let’s make the process of registering to vote easier for millions of people—regardless of which community they live in, or the block where they grew up. As you read this one day before Election Day, an estimated 100 million people, or close to 50 percent of eligible voters, don’t have access to online registration for voting. In many of the states that do have an online system in place already, eligible voters are still unable to participate without a state-issued ID, disproportionally hurting students, seniors, low-income communities, and the 25 percent of African-Americans who don’t have picture IDs.

It is time for our voting system to enter the 21st century. Allowing every eligible voter in this nation to register online is a simple and effective idea, and its time has come for the 23 states that still do not have any online registration system.

But we can’t afford to wait until the system is fixed before you make your voice heard.  Whether the Democrats or Republicans control the Senate depends on what happens on November 4th. Under a Republican majority, gridlock in Congress will get worse. We will face more manufactured crises and government shutdowns. The future of federal courts is in the balance, and this has a huge role on shaping policies on everything from immigration to labor laws to health care.

But more than that, everything that hardworking middle class families care about would be either under attack or off the agenda—raising the minimum wage, paid leave, fixing student loan debt, and investing in job training, just to name a few.

If you just stand back and watch, you'll have no control over the outcome. So bring a friend and vote tomorrow, November 4.

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