Strengthening Our Democracy by Making It Easier to Vote

Voters at a Polling Station
Voters at a Polling Station

There are some rights that are so fundamental to our society that you'd think the public debate would be closed on them. The right of every American citizen to vote -- regardless of age, race, or income level -- is one of them.

It's a right that we have as a free people because so many courageous individuals sacrificed before us. Our parents and grandparents, and the brave men and women who died for this right, all understood a powerful truth at the heart of the American dream: the stronger we make our country, the more she gives back to us, to our children, and to our grandchildren. That better, stronger future rests in the hands of those who cast their ballots all across America: in every state, in every city and town.

Yet today, this fundamental right is under attack. In states like South Carolina, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, Republican governors have signed into law voter ID measures that would disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of voters in their states that don't currently meet the strict specifications of the new laws. And in other states like Florida and Ohio, Republican governors are making it harder to vote by reducing the length of early voting and restricting the use of absentee ballots. It should come as no surprise that the voters affected by these new laws are more likely to be minorities, college students, working people, the elderly and lower income voters -- voters that tend to skew Democratic.

We've seen the results of these policies: hours-long lines to vote in states like Florida, mass confusion over what identification was necessary to vote in Pennsylvania, and more. It's time to stop voter suppression. That's why we're taking a different path in Maryland -- a path that's guided by the simple principle that we should make it easier, not harder, for all eligible Americans to make their voices heard at the ballot box.

Maryland first allowed early voting during the 2010 primary elections. In November 2012, more than 16 percent of registered voters in Maryland cast their ballots during the early voting period, and some polling places, particularly in our larger jurisdictions, witnessed early voting lines that were hours long.

Today, after months of working together with our legislative leaders and advocates who believe that every Marylander should have the right to cast their vote, I am signing legislation that will expand this process in our state by adding early voting sites, extending hours, and allowing more citizens to have access to absentee ballots. Early voting will now be extended by two days and two hours for presidential elections and by two days for every other election. We will also allow same-day voter registration during the early voting period so voters will be able to register and vote at the same time -- a meaningful accomplishment that can lead to increased voter turnout and benefit voters who may miss the voter registration deadline.

In 2012, the Maryland State Board of Elections for the first time permitted Marylanders to register to vote and change their address online. During the past presidential election, over 105,000 Marylanders used the online system. We will now make it easier and faster for all voters to apply for and receive absentee ballots, using a secure online application process.

These are the types of policies and innovations that we need in every state across the nation. The right to vote gives every eligible American a voice in our electoral politics. There's too much at stake to stay silent as this right is eroded.