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Opinion Columns

Nicolais: The death of the voting rights bill could doom democracy

Limiting access to the ballot threatens each of us, even in states like Colorado where our election officials have created safe, accessible processes

Sometimes it may be difficult to see how legislation in other states affects us here in Colorado. Nowhere is that more evident than the death of the voting rights bill last week.

In our state, we have a system that provides both broad access and protection against fraud. Our electorate has one of the highest participation rates in the country.

Every election, most of us get a ballot in the mail weeks ahead of Election Day and can choose between mailing it back, bringing it to a secure drop box or casting an in-person vote at a polling location. Coloradans can vote early or they can vote on Election Day.

Mario Nicolais

The multitude of options equates to greater freedom. It is the essence of liberty.

No right is more important in a democracy than the right to vote. Not health care, not education, not even free speech. Though each is undoubtedly key to creating a strong democratic government, none is as fundamental as the right to vote.

Without the right to vote, we do not have a democracy.

Unfortunately, that is the future faced by the residents of multiple states across the country. Already more restrictive than Colorado, many of these states have begun to enact laws that will further limit participation.

Proponents argue that the changes are necessary to combat fraud. It is an empty argument. Outside of conspiratorial county clerks, nobody in Colorado believes our elections suffer from mass fraud. They do not suffer from minor fraud, either. 

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In fact, the single biggest instance of election malfeasance took place when the very same county clerk failed to collect and count properly cast ballots until months after the election.

That was not the fault of any voter trying to perpetrate a crime; it was inept governance by an official more interested in touting untruths at a conference held by a guy accustomed to paid-programming commercials.

Across the rest of the state, municipal workers, county clerks and state election officials have spent thousands of hours honing the process and system so that it runs smoothly. Legitimate concerns have led to thoughtful revisions.

For example, ensuring the accuracy of voter files is critical to orchestrating a universal mail ballot. Consequently, our election officials have created a system with several checks and cross-references to guard against any inadvertent, much less intended, error.

The rest of the country could follow our lead. Our election officials could certainly help other states use the next year to prepare and expand access in a safe, secure manner. 

Instead, many have chosen to regress and settle for a lesser, tainted version of democracy. Their actions echo of poll taxes and lengthy literacy tests.

The amalgamation of proposed electoral bills passed by the U.S. House would have done away with such discrepancies between states. Set standards would be put into place.

That opportunity died when Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema took to the floor and reaffirmed her opposition to changing filibuster rules. She instead called for addressing “the disease of division.” Maybe she has not been paying attention over the past decade? Under the current two-party structure, division is the primary electoral strategy.

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Ironically, Sinema may be among the first to fall victim to her short-sightedness. Assuming she survives any potential primary challenge, she lives in a state where the state legislature is actively undermining the ability of her voters to cast ballots. She could find herself the first victim of such actions later this fall.

The aggregate effect of multiple states taking the same approach threatens voters in the remaining states in turn. Whether via congressional majorities or electoral college math, even our pristine elections are under threat from the taint oozed outside our borders.

After the voting rights bill dies in the Senate, headlines will move on to other matters. But if you read between the lines of every article about every election thereafter, that death will be the subtext they all lay upon.


Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq


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