I am a planetary scientist. In my day job, I study asteroids. I observe them, I create models to better understand them, and ultimately, I try to improve our methods for learning about them. There are many scientifically interesting reasons to study asteroids, but one big reason is that asteroids pose a potential threat to the Earth. And if we want to be prepared, we need to understand the threats that we face.
The steady erosion of voting rights is another threat that’s important to understand. This is why today, National Voter Registration Day, is a big deal. The last election showed us that our democracy is under threat. One of the key principles of our democratic government–the right to vote and freely elect our government–was challenged. With challenges to the election results, unsubstantiated claims of voter fraud, and the passage of legislation that puts up barriers for voting, it is clear our right to vote is under threat.
Unfortunately, this is not something new. Voting rights have been challenged, especially for women, people of color, and other historically marginalized groups, since the founding of the United States. In fact, many practices and institutions within the government have come out of this legacy, such as Washington D.C.’s special status as a federal district, and the Senate filibuster, a Senate rule which requires a supermajority to pass most legislation. Both of these have roots in racism and the suppression of civil rights, including voting rights.
The filibuster in particular is currently being used in this way. There are currently three key pieces of legislation before the Senate that would help to secure and expand voting rights. Passing these bills would be a huge win for our right to vote in this country, and would go a long way towards securing our democracy. These bills are
- The For the People Act: a bill that would reform campaign finance laws and ban partisan gerrymandering;
- The John Lewis Voting Rights Act: a bill that would reaffirm many of the provisions in the historical Voting Rights Act; and
- The Fair Representation Act: a bill that would reform the election system to create more competitive elections across the country.
Unfortunately though, all of these bills are currently being held up by the filibuster. Without reforming or eliminating the filibuster, none of these bills are likely to become law. But reforming or eliminating the filibuster is unlikely to happen without strong input from us, the voters.
This highlights the important ways in which we must make our voices heard if we want to help secure the future of our democracy, and to protect the civil rights, and voting rights, of all Americans. While it may seem like some of the challenges that we face are insurmountable, there is one important thing all of us can do…
And National Voter Registration Day can help us do just that! National Voter Registration Day is a day celebrating our right to vote and our democratic system. On this day, volunteers across the country will be in communities to help you register to vote. This is an opportunity to overcome the barriers being put in place that attempt to block our civil and voting rights, and make your voice heard. Once you are registered, you can vote in elections at all levels–federal, state, and local–and make it clear to our leaders that you care about voting rights!
Protecting our democracy is paramount. A functioning and stable democracy is what gives us peace, security, and economic prosperity. It will allow us to address important issues such as climate change and inequality. It allows us, as scientists, to do our work freely, without undue influence or fear of attack or reprisal. But none of this can happen without a well-protected right to vote. That right is currently under attack, posing a threat to our democracy.
As a scientist, I know the importance of understanding the threats we face and being prepared to deal with them. When it comes to the threats posed by asteroids, we observe them, study them, and plan ways to prevent them from hitting the Earth. When it comes to protecting our voting rights, we need to make our voices heard and tell our leaders that we care about protecting these rights. We can do all of that by voting.
If you aren’t registered to vote, please take advantage of National Voter Registration Day this year to register. If you are registered, reach out to your friends and family, and make sure that they are registered. And then…
Go make your voice heard!