Like voting, eating ice cream is every American's birthright. (We're pretty sure it's right there in the Constitution: you can check it out yourself.) Still, most of us take eating ice cream for granted. We expect that when we head down to the local Scoop Shop that we'll be able to stroll right in and order whatever we want, pretty much whenever we want it. And get it in a waffle cone to boot. Makes sense! Something as essential as ice cream should be available to all, with no hassle, no guessing games, no confusion.
But… what if ordering ice cream were as frustrating as the voting process?
Scoop Shop Red Tape
Let's imagine that you're hungry. You're hungry and you want some ice cream. You walk down the street and a feeling of pride straightens your back. You smile thinking of how good it feels to participate in one of America's oldest and most important traditions: consuming ice cream. But you notice something strange up ahead: It looks like there's a line of people on the sidewalk. "What's this?" you ask. "Oh, we're just waiting to get into the Scoop Shop."
The line wraps around the block and it's a couple of hours before you finally reach the door. Everyone waits, at least those who don't have to get back to work right away, because what can you do? Ice cream is important. Finally, though, you're up next. A shop worker asks for your name and your Ben & Jerry's ID. You fumble around in your wallet. "What ID? Why do I need an ID?" "Sorry," the worker says, "No ID, no ice cream." "But you know me," you say. "I live here." "Sorry, those are the rules." No ice cream for you.
But that’s not the only way this scenario could have played out. You could have encountered any one of these roadblocks:
- “We’re sorry, there’s no record that you’ve ever registered as an ice cream buyer here.”
- “No, you can’t register now, the cutoff date for that was weeks ago.”
- “You’re at the wrong Scoop Shop. You need to go to the one on the other side of town for your ice cream.”
And even if you do make it past all these restrictions, you might face even longer lines inside the Scoop Shop, not enough Scoopers to serve everyone, and a couple of nonfunctioning cash registers that further bog down the whole process.
That’s a whole lot of hoops to jump through, even for something as delightful as a scoop of Ben & Jerry’s.
Jumping Through Hoops
Now, who in their right mind would make something as critical as ordering ice cream so hard?
The answer, of course, is that no one would. But when it comes to voting, citizens face these same frustrating challenges to participation. Voter ID laws, confusing registration rituals and short time periods for getting all the right paperwork to the right people lead many folks to skip voting altogether. Particularly African-American and lower-income citizens, communities who are less likely to have IDs and the time to go through the registration process.
And none of this has happened by mistake. New voting laws in many states are little more than thinly veiled attempts at keeping voters from the polls.
But why? Why would anyone in a democracy want to keep voters from voting? Isn't voting basically what democracy is all about?
Too many political leaders, especially those backed by—and advancing the agenda of—ultra-wealthy donors and corporations, actually seem to feel that including pesky regular citizens in elections is something of an annoyance, rather than the backbone of our form of government.
Certain politicians and their corporate benefactors apparently don't think it's enough that big money (thanks, Citizens United) now bankrolls American politics. Now that voting itself is under fire, what can we do? One idea gaining traction is Automatic Voter Registration. The US is one of the few democracies where the government does not take responsibility for registering its citizens to vote. But, in a hopeful sign, Oregon recently passed a law that would automatically register all citizens who have driver's licenses. Pushing for such measures is one way that we can help return power in this country to its rightful owner: the people. After all, shouldn't we make voting as hassle-free, if not quite as exciting, as ordering ice cream?