When my maternal grandfather emigrated to America from Austria in 1907, arriving at Ellis Island after passing by a powerful symbol of liberty and compassion, he rightly thought he was establishing a home in a country where he could taste freedom every day. He could vote after gaining citizenship without fear of oppression.
He could have a say in a vibrant democracy.
Like so many immigrants fleeing authoritarian, anti-Semitic regimes, he sought the opportunity to flourish as a person deserving of respect regardless of his ethnic background. What he truly valued was to vote without interference or restriction.
Unfortunately, he now would find a country, once brimming with optimism and possibility, a place where numerous state legislatures are trying to suppress the vote by limiting the number of voting places, compressing the time for early voting and restricting mail-in and absentee voting.
For example, Republican lawmakers in Georgia have passed legislation that limits Sunday voting to one Sunday in each county, limits the use of ballot drop boxes, requires absentee ballots to contain a driver’s license number, state ID number or copy of a photo ID.
The announced reason is to reduce the possibility of fraud. That is hogwash. Election officials nationwide have found little or no fraud.
So, what is the real deal? Some Republican-led legislatures, incited by former President Trump’s outlandish, unfounded claims of fraud (except none in states where he won), are seeking to suppress the vote, fearful that citizens, primarily persons of color, may have the audacity to select Democratic candidates.
It is a sickening display of outright political bullying. Hope for immediate political gain destroys a basic tenet of a once-better country, one that stood out for its ideals, not its malice and attacks on democracy.
State legislators have introduced 253 bills that would restrict voting access in 43 states. In a different set of 43 states, elected bodies have submitted 704 bills to expand voting access. The Brennan Center for Justice is the source of this data.
Not all is shamefully anti-democratic. There are rays of sunlight.
The 2021 Maryland General Assembly is considering legislation to make it easier to vote and exercise your constitutional right to express your like or dislike for a candidate. As you should.
Voting is a right. It is not to be a logistical challenge made more difficult by politicians focused on control and power, the democratic process be damned.
Led by Maryland’s Congressman John Sarbanes, the U.S. House of Representatives is debating legislation to broaden the processes for voting freely and easily. It should not be a novel idea.
It should not be necessary, but it is.
My grandfather would be aghast at the current political misbehavior, as defined by voter suppression dressed up as a supposedly legitimate attempt to fight fraud. The stalking horse, however, is non-existent, except in the misguided minds of ill-informed Trump loyalists.
He would wonder what went wrong. When did hatred replace reconciliation? When did it become acceptable to disenfranchise our fellow citizens by placing roadblocks in their pursuit of democracy?
My grandfather would be disappointed. However, he was not naive. He had confronted religious bigotry. He had closely monitored and grieved the inexcusable murder of six million Jews during the horrific Holocaust.
Puffing away on his ubiquitous cigar, he would barely recognize a country that he loved and respected. He would see blatant attempts, some successful, to impose a shroud of unethical interference on the voting process. He would discern the mischievously deceptive reasoning used to curb democracy for political advantage.
He might wonder: did I not flee the “old country” to thrust aside authoritarian and autocratic attacks on freedom and justice?
As we would gather his loving grandchildren around him were he alive, reveling in his financial and familial success. perhaps he would pause and reflect on the sad state of our democracy. The cigar smoke might disguise his disgust of today’s America.
His grandson would share his despair. It is unavoidable.
Columnist Howard Freedlander retired in 2011 as Deputy State Treasurer of the State of Maryland. Previously, he was the executive officer of the Maryland National Guard. He also served as community editor for Chesapeake Publishing, lastly at the Queen Anne’s Record-Observer. In retirement, Howard serves on the boards of several non-profits on the Eastern Shore, Annapolis and Philadelphia.