Marian Wright EdelmanOp-EdOpinion

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN: Voting for Our Future

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court struck yet another blow to voting rights when it blocked an order that would have made it easier for Alabama citizens to vote safely in the middle of the pandemic by easing some restrictions before the state’s July 14 primary runoff election. Alabama’s current restrictions for absentee voting require voters to submit a copy of photo identification and obtain the signatures of two adult witnesses or a notary public before returning their ballot.

In June, a U.S. District Court judge in Birmingham ruled that voters in some counties with medical conditions putting them at risk of COVID-19, including people who are 65 or older or have a disability, could be allowed to vote absentee without those restrictions. The judge’s ruling also lifted Alabama’s statewide prohibition on curbside voting and instead allowed local officials to choose to provide absentee ballot drop-off boxes. But the state of Alabama fought for a stay to keep the voting restrictions in place, and in a 5-4 split decision, the Supreme Court granted it.

The Supreme Court issued a similar 5-4 decision in April overturning a lower court’s decision to allow a six-day extension for absentee ballots in Wisconsin. These rulings are two of the many warning signs in the escalating fight to protect the right to vote and make it easier for all eligible voters to participate, especially in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis. President Trump has already made clear he believes Republicans should oppose efforts like mail-in voting, despite using that option himself, because that “doesn’t work out well for Republicans.” But beyond the fact that studies have shown that claim is unfounded, protecting the right to vote and making sure every one of us has the ability to vote safely should be a shared value and priority for all Americans.

Every summer students enrolled in the Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools program participate in a National Day of Social Action, lifting up a concern they are passionate about and helping them learn they are never too young to speak out and make a difference. This year’s CDF Freedom Schools scholars are focused on voting and the theme #VoteBecause. They are too young to vote themselves, but they want to make sure adults know what issues they care about so that when adults cast their ballots this fall children’s needs will be front and center.

The CDF Freedom Schools National Day of Social Action is partnering with When We All Vote, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization launched in 2018 by co-chairs Michelle Obama, Tom Hanks, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Janelle Monae, Chris Paul, Faith Hill, and Tim McGraw with a mission to increase participation in every election. When We All Vote’s simple belief is that when we all vote, we all do better.

That’s absolutely true for children’s needs. Even before the pandemic, more than 11.9 million children — disproportionately children of color — were poor, more than 12.5 million children were living in food-insecure households, and an estimated 4.3 million children were uninsured. Now that the pandemic has exacerbated every preexisting condition and made an already dangerous reality worse, children desperately need adults to do better. A groundswell of adults focused on the future children deserve can transform our nation for all children.

Children can’t vote, but you can — and must.

Edelman is the founder and president emerita of Children’s Defense Fund.

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