By Rosalie Wilmot
(This op-ed column appeared in the July 17, 2012 edition of the Denver Post and can be seen online at denverpost.com)
I have been a canvasser for more than a year now. I’ve toiled under the sweltering summer sun while walking blocks and blocks in search of young people who need to be registered. I do this not because of a promise of compensation, but rather because I believe that every person deserves the opportunity to participate. I do it because I remember that the day I was registered to vote, I was given something far more important than a piece of yellow paper.
I was given a voice.
That’s why this year I am especially concerned about my generation turning out at the polls and making their mark on history. I have watched as voter photo identification bills and measures limiting same day registration have passed across the nation and large percentages of the population have been excluded from the most fundamental right we all share, the right to vote. I am worried because I know that these measures make it more difficult for young voices to be heard, I know that these “protections” largely make it more difficult for disenfranchised people to participate.
The consequences of inaction can be seen in our own communities. They are manifested in complacency and a disbelief that our voices even matter. As a young voter I remember my own process of discovery. .
Becoming a new voter is sort of like being reborn. You register and then wait impatiently for your ballot to arrive; you begin to read a bit closer when you hear of bills being introduced in the legislature. You begin to truly care about the democratic process. When your ballot finally arrives by mail, you are mostly ready. You unfold it neatly and pull out a fresh ballpoint pen. You carefully fill in the little circles and watch the ink dry. When you stick it in the mail – like a Christmas wish list to Santa – you have completed something worth bragging about.
You have acted as a citizen.
This year in Denver there are living signs that the system itself is in need of care. Secretary of State Scott Gessler wants to keep “inactive” voters from being sent mail ballots. For many Coloradans, missing one election in the past may cost them the ability to participate in future elections. If you did not participate in the last general election, you will be labeled an “inactive” voter and might not receive a mail ballot.
However, despite these attempts at voter suppression, there are also indicators of support for the democratic process. . This year the 150 polling places around Denver will be complemented by 13 voting centers with drive-up, drop-off service along with ten secure ballot drop boxes with 24-hour accessibility. Posters are being hung in homeless shelters and IPad applications have been developed to increase accessibility for seniors. When we participate in our community and focus on issues, we do have the power to create change. It begins with a decision to participate – and is dependent on policies that make participation possible.
This election, be ready.
Visit GoVoteColorado.com to check your status. If you have moved since the last time you registered, you must re-register. Don’t take it for granted, visit the website to make certain.
The registration deadline for the General Election Nov. 6, 2012 is Oct. 9, so if you are registering close to the deadline at any location besides the Denver Elections Division, make sure they validate your registration with a date and time stamp.
I hope for democracy —which is why I educate and prepare myself for upcoming elections. I pull on my volunteer shirt and I set up a table to register voters. I talk to young people. I try to hear their vast perspectives. I remind myself, as well as others, that our vote requires follow-up action and that we are the true watchdogs of our own freedoms. Beyond our own acts as citizens, we also desperately need elected officials who seek to expand opportunities, rather than suppress them.
Colorado: Let people vote.
Our voices are ready to be heard.
Wilmot, of Denver, is a 2012 graduate of the University of Denver and a Media Intern at the ACLU of Colorado.