In March 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson gave a speech to Congress urging passage of the Voting Rights Act. In that speech, Johnson explained that the “first and most vital of all our rights is the right to vote.” He added: “It is from the exercise of this right that all our other rights flow.”
As we look at the current political landscape, it is a timely reminder to recall that Johnson also stated: “At times history and fate meet at a single time in a single place to shape a turning point in man’s unending search for freedom.”
Elected officials from both parties rose to meet that challenge more than a half-century ago. Once again, we are at another turning point in our ongoing effort to create a more perfect union.
The right to vote using processes that are fair and equitable for all citizens should not be open to debate. Voting is a fundamental American right that must be made available to all eligible citizens, period! This is not a Democratic or Republican issue; it is an American issue. The right to vote is something all elected officials should work vigorously to protect and enable.
As state legislatures across the country address voting rights and the supporting processes, one goal must be clear: an inclusive system that improves voting access for all citizens. In Pennsylvania, we recognize the bipartisan effort underway and call on our leaders to 1. keep the shared goal that binds us as a nation and 2. maintain a civil dialogue.
We call on lawmakers to modernize our election process to make it easier for all citizens to vote while ensuring integrity. Basic standards for this modernization effort should include:
Making voting more accessible (not less) for everyone, with flexibility to vote in person, via mail, or through expanded availability of drop boxes.
Ensuring that voter identification requirements are as flexible as those used in Pennsylvania for the initial registration/voting process, whether parties are voting by mail or in person.
Creating vote centers in high population density locations — with minimum standards for vote centers per 10,000 citizens with operating hours that accommodate varied work schedules.
Simplifying the process for registration changes, including allowing voters to register or change party affiliation on Election Day, as is currently allowed in 17 states.
Maintaining the independence of election boards by protecting them from any outside interference, replacement, or intimidation before, during, or after vote counts.
Vesting full responsibility for oversight of elections across the commonwealth in an official elected or appointed to an appropriate statewide office (e.g., secretary of the commonwealth).
It is imperative that business leaders across the nation support the effective functioning of our American system of democracy without any undue influence or needless obstacles. Our nation cannot continue to grow, prosper, and succeed unless every eligible voter can participate in free and fair elections.
Corporate America must stand up for voting rights again today as it has done in the past. In 2006, we stood in support of President George W. Bush when he signed legislation that extended the 1965 Voting Rights Act by 25 years.
At the time, Bush ignored opposition from certain lawmakers because, like Johnson, he understood what was at stake: “The right of ordinary men and women to determine their own political future lies at the heart of the American experiment,” Bush said.
The right of every eligible person to vote and participate in our electoral process is the bedrock of our representative democracy. Lawmakers should be working on a bipartisan basis to encourage and make it easier for all eligible voters to have their voices heard. They must set aside partisan ideology and allegiance and do this for the sake of the country, this commonwealth, and all its citizens.
Once again, we are at a crossroads. We must do what is right and fair for all Americans. Every voter must have equal access. Every vote must be counted. And every vote must count.
Gregory E. Deavens is president and CEO of Independence Blue Cross. Susan Jacobson is president and CEO of Jacobson Strategic Communications and chair of the Chamber of Commerce for Greater Philadelphia. David Thornburgh is president and CEO of the Committee of Seventy.