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Op-ed: The Freedom to Vote Act must be passed

There aren’t a lot of young people left in West Virginia, but I am one of them. My generation constantly flees our state because of lack of opportunities, one of the many problems caused by our broken government, which prioritizes the needs of corporations and billionaires above those of young and working people. Young people like me want to stay and build our lives in West Virginia, but it’s difficult to have faith in our home state that we love when we see our communities ripped apart by a Big-Pharma-funded opioid epidemic, we see more of our jobs shipped out of state or overseas, and our elected leaders turn a blind eye to the needs of their young and working constituents. That’s why young people like me are demanding passage of the Freedom to Vote Act.

Because of the relatively small fraction of the population that we make up, you may rarely hear the perspective of young people like me, so I hope that you, dear reader, will take a few minutes to learn about them.

There’s one politician that I am proud of these days, and that’s Sen. Joe Manchin. His work in the Senate has led us to the precipice of passing the most powerful campaign finance and voting rights reform bill that our country has seen in decades. The Freedom to Vote act is a chance to get other states up to West Virginia’s high quality election standards. The bill includes common sense reforms with overwhelming support from voters in both parties, such as implementing same day and automatic voter registration, requiring voter ID or government-issued proof of address, 15 days of early voting nationwide — all provisions that make it easier for seniors and veterans to vote — and restores the right to vote for former felons. It is worth noting that many of these provisions are already working for West Virginians, including automatic voter registration, early voting, and re-enfranchisement of former felons. If we want to truly trust our democratic process, ensuring that our nation is on the same page when it comes to federal elections seems like a no-brainer. How can we trust that a presidential election outcome is fair and unbiased when many states operate on completely different playing fields when it comes time to vote, and make it much more difficult for voters to cast their ballots than it is for us here in West Virginia?

Two more necessary parts of this bill are the DISCLOSE & Honest Ads Acts that will expose dark money in politics. We deserve to know who is funding Super-PACS that influence so many policy decisions in Washington, and we should have the same disclosure laws that apply to printed political ads to apply to online political ads. Transparency is something we don’t get much of from politicians, and this is a great opportunity to shed more light on the vast amounts of money that influence our elected leaders. The bill will also end partisan gerrymandering, which is a process so convoluted that many of us feel as though our votes hold no real power, when our elected officials can continue to draw their districts to favor their own party. Both parties are guilty of this, and without provisions to outlaw gerrymandering, the deep partisan divides in our country will only continue to widen.

I am fearful for the future of our country without meaningful democracy reform, and I know that a majority of West Virginians feel the same way. How can we move forward when the practices our Congress partake in have been actively undermining the needs of their constituents for years? We can’t. For West Virginia to become a land of plentiful opportunities again, and for young people like me to want to stay here, we need to address the root causes of the problems we face: a broken and unaccountable government. By reducing the role of money in politics and making it easier for young and working people to vote — in other words, by passing Manchin’s Freedom To Vote Act — we can start to instill some trust in our government again.

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Rylee Haught is a student at WVU, a lead organizer for Un-PAC West Virginia, and a graduate of Parkersburg High School.

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