Opinion: Protecting the Right to Vote More Important Than Ever Before

For the greater part of 2020, the public health emergency brought on by the onset of a novel coronavirus has caused an array of disturbances to civil and economic procedures. Among those are key democratic processes such as election campaigning and voting, as 2020 marks a busy calendar year for primary, uniform, and runoff elections.

While the pandemic continues to affect the lives of all Americans, protecting democratic processes such as voting are arguably more important now than ever before, as COVID-19 has challenged the durability and effectiveness of local, state and federal leadership in mitigating its negative externalities. Additionally, economic regulations and healthcare infrastructure have been tested immensely through the closures of most business sectors and the treatment of millions of Americans that have contracted the coronavirus. 

In Texas, civil society associations and civil rights organizations are denouncing the state’s in-person voting processes, petitioning for changes and minimum protections in light of the pandemic. According to a July lawsuit filed in San Antonio, the groups allege that certain policies regarding COVID-19, such as social distancing require the reduction of physical voting stations, arguably limiting access to polls. Additionally, the lawsuit challenges the gubernatorial decision to not require citizens to wear protective equipment, citing its unconstitutionality and ability to pose a substantial risk to voters on Election Day.

Essential Rights of All Americans

Voting is a quintessential right, which is granted and reserved to citizens. More than anything, voting represents the power to choose leadership, to voice an opinion and to support those individuals, policies and programs that align with certain values. In a democracy as strong as the United States, voting is the way in which the American people can help shape the laws and regulations in which they are subjected.

Even though local, federal and state governments are in place to organize, facilitate and protect the prosperity of its citizens, if changed or altered, key democratic processes such as voting are directly threatened by the new policies implemented throughout the duration of the pandemic. However, the threat of disease and infection should not impede a citizen’s constitutional rights, which collectively are dependent on the democratic process of voting.

Challenging Voter Repression

In a state of emergency, changes to governmental processes are necessary. Extrajudicial measures are often drafted, signed and implemented through mechanisms such as executive orders by city, state and federal leaders. The governmental response to COVID-19 is no different — which has ushered in a significant wave of reforms and mandates. Often, if these are left uncontested, they could infringe on core constitutional rights. 

Petitions, lawsuits and challenges to these orders are necessary and represent another fundamental right of citizens. Local, state and federal judges can weigh in on these orders and policies, which is imperative to ensure justice and equality for all citizens. They can even serve as a last line of defense to protect those rights which are ingrained in American civic duty.

While nobody should have their right to vote impeded, there are certain ways in which in-person voting can ensure the safety of those who exercise this right. Sterilization and sanitization efforts can be supported, and maximum social distancing can be implemented. 

Voting at its Core

While public health and safety is at the forefront of concern amid a pandemic that is truly global in scope, changing integral elements to established voting processes can prevent American citizens from exercising their right to vote. Moreover, it could even threaten the democratic process as a whole, if these policies reduced access to voting booths or suspended elections altogether, extending the terms of elected officials 

Changing ways in which citizens are able to attend polling stations or limiting their access to them not only endangers citizens, it directly goes against their fundamental rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. At its core, these rights are protected through granting citizens the right to elect the leaders that will propose, ratify and implement laws that directly affect them.

The founders of the United States of America and many more hardworking citizens thereafter have fought, marched, and sacrificed for the suffrage. All those elected are done so by the people who show up to exercise their right to vote in electoral processes. Those who will use the threat of contracting the coronavirus to prevent people from voting in their local, state and federal elections should be contested and challenged in the court of law. The ability for citizens to show up and vote is the power which can make a difference this election season.

Brett Cain is a trial lawyer, the owner of the Cain Firm, and a partner of The Law Center.

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