opinion

COLUMN: Bloomington needs to expand their voting rights



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The Bloomington mayoral primary is only two months away. Incumbent Mayor John Hamilton is facing opponent Monroe County Commissioner Amanda Barge.

While Barge and Hamilton have a lot to offer, they lack a robust agenda on voting rights. Bloomington sorely needs a voting rights package, and there is no time to lose.

Voting rights have been under constant attack. In 2017, Indiana adopted a bill designed to suppress voters so harsh that it was blocked by a federal judge from going into effect. Other such laws have gone through and not been repealed. Bloomington and Monroe County can take steps to fight back, and they should

Some, like the No More Stolen Elections campaign, have taken to calling for a new Voter Bill of Rights. Though many of the proposals included in the bill would need changes at the state and federal level, some are possible locally.

First on the agenda is expanding franchise. Bloomington can lower the voting age from 18 years of age to 16 for voting in local elections. Cities and localities regularly discuss issues like changing classroom sizes and whether or not to arm teachers. These disproportionately affect young people, and they need a say in what is enacted.

A 2018 poll showed that most Americans couldn’t identify all three branches of government. This is a plague that affects all Americans, not just young ones, and singling them out reeks of ageism.

A poll of the Bloomington High School South’s Student Council revealed that only 1 out of 17 students wanted the voting age lowered. These students chose to vote against a hypothetical policy. This is exactly why they should be allowed to vote. Additionally, since voting is a habit, this policy could lead to higher levels of voter engagement in the future.

Second, Bloomington should make Election Day a holiday. Sandusky, Ohio recently made Election Day a paid holiday for federal employees by moving it to Columbus Day. There is no reason Bloomington cannot do the same

In 2018, Hamilton proclaimed Oct. 8 to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. In 2016, he had declared it to be Fall Holiday. These are good steps that were taken to kill a racist holiday. However, switching the holiday aspect from Indigenous Peoples’ Day to Election Day is still worth considering to make democracy more accessible.

Making Election Day a holiday would greatly expand voters’ ability to vote. Workers should not have to choose between pulling a shift or going to vote. This proposal would make it easier for minorities, poor and young people to vote. Some say this is a partisan power grab. They’re wrong. It is simply affirming voting as a right.

Lastly, noncitizens should be allowed to vote in local elections. Indeed, many cities such as Tahoma Park, Maryland, have already taken these steps. Tahoma Park allows green card holders, student visa holders and undocumented people to vote in local elections.

This doesn’t just make cities more welcoming, but it is also the moral thing to do. Almost 8,000 international students live in Bloomington. Many noncitizens work and pay taxes with no electoral voice. There can be no better example of taxation without representation. Additionally, the U.S. has a history of noncitizen voting which was only quashed by the forces of racism and xenophobia.

Noncitizens often face unique concerns which deserve public policy fixes. Immigrants are significantly less likely to report crimes for fear of deportation. Allowing noncitizens a public voice gives them a chance to affect policy without fear of retribution. This makes both them and Bloomington safer.

Ultimately, all these policies and more should be adopted at the state and national level. Until that day comes, staring rampant voter suppression in the face and expanding voting rights is the purest form of rebellion. Anyone who seeks to be mayor of Bloomington should sign on to making this ambitious package a reality.

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