The District of Columbia holds a unique place in the history of the civil rights movement. From demonstrations for women’s suffrage in the early 20th century to hosting the 1963 March on Washington, our nation’s capital is intrinsically linked to the struggle to expand the right to vote. Today, the District is poised to make civil rights history once again.
With continued attacks on our democracy and the right to vote, pending legislation at the D.C. Council would make the District the first jurisdiction in the nation to allow anyone in the electorate the right to vote from their mobile devices, enabling many historically underserved residents a simple way to participate in elections.
If passed and signed into law, this expansion of voting options would represent a remarkable victory in the civil rights struggle of our day. We encourage residents of the District and fellow lawmakers who represent Washingtonians to support this historic expansion of the right to vote, especially amid the widespread assault on voting rights elsewhere in the United States. Thankfully, those attacks aren’t happening here, but the past two years have vividly illustrated the need for more options to cast a ballot as well as the importance of making it easier for communities of color to be engaged and involved in the voting process.
The 2020 election cycle had the highest voter turnout in decades in no small part because of mail-in and early voting — options that did not require people to stand in long lines at polling locations. As a lesson learned from the pandemic, D.C. now will continue to send mail-in ballots to all voters. When there are more options to participate, more people vote. When more people vote, more voices are heard. When more voices are heard, our city gets closer to achieving our goal of being a truly representative body.
Despite 2020’s increased turnout, important gaps remain among certain historically underserved groups, particularly Black and Brown voters, voters with disabilities, and young voters. Roughly half of eligible voters under age 30 did not vote in 2020. That includes almost 60 percent of voters aged 18–20.
Participation by voters with disabilities was also 7 percent lower than voting by people without disabilities. Having more convenient voting options like mobile voting can bring the ballot box to these groups, allowing them to cast their vote privately and securely.
In 21 pilots across seven states, mobile voting has been successfully tested among certain limited populations, making voting easier for people with disabilities, members of the military, and citizens living abroad. Not only have these pilot programs shown the technology exists to allow easier access to voting, but that it can be done securely while increasing voter turnout as well. Residents of the District — especially people of color — have been historically disadvantaged by a lack of full representation in Congress. Mobile voting is a chance for us to expand access to the ballot box, while representing a small step toward greater self-determination for D.C. residents. It’s time for D.C. to be the leader in enfranchisement in the 21st century.