Civil Conversation Challenge for Teenagers, Forum 5: Voting and Democracy

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These are just some of the questions we hope you will explore in this Student Opinion forum, part of our Civil Conversation Challenge.

The right to vote is the bedrock of American democracy. But in 2020, our electoral system has been called into question by Republicans and Democrats alike — though they disagree about where the problem lies. According to an article from NPR, it comes down to a matter of principle:

Republicans are more likely to argue that casting a vote is a privilege of citizenship to be earned and safeguarded with restrictions and security. …

Democrats are more likely to argue that voting is a right and that the barriers to casting a ballot should be as low as practical.

For example, Republicans traditionally have supported tightening requirements to register and to vote, favoring measures like voter identification laws and, this year, in-person voting. The reason for these safeguards, they say, is to combat what they claim to be “widespread voter fraud.” That claim, however, has been repeatedly debunked by research, which has found that, while voter fraud exists, it is exceedingly rare.

Democrats, on the other hand, tend to support the expansion of the electorate and favor measures, such as nationwide vote-by-mail, automatic voter registration and making Election Day a national holiday, that make casting a ballot easier and more accessible. They see actions that Republicans say are meant to prevent fraud — like purging voter rolls, limiting early voting and patrolling polling places — as forms of voter suppression that disproportionately keep Black, Latino and Native people from voting.

This fundamental difference in opinion on voting rights has come to a head this year as the pandemic and a host of other concerns threaten this foundation of our democracy — among them, ongoing interference from Russia, China and Iran; widespread online misinformation; partisan gerrymandering; the fairness of the Electoral College; and questions about whether President Trump, who has continually sown distrust in the election, will contest the outcome or commit to a peaceful transfer of power should he lose.

What has resulted is that Americans today have diminished faith in the election process and many are already worried about the legitimacy of the vote in November.

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