or rent a car. This voter probably has a passport, or keeps a folder of vital records in a home filing cabinet. He can quickly locate a current mortgage, lease, or bank statement. This voter can read, speak English, and plug-in to current events through TV and internet. She is able to find support when coping with her own or a loved-one's disability. This voter can get around town. He uses a phone daily, and has the ordinary skills needed to navigate the maze of mainstream American life.
Those who live squarely within societal infrastructure may puzzle at the outcry over every decision made by officials in various states regarding when and how its citizens vote. If these changes in law don't affect you, or the people around you, it's hard to fathom the critical impact they can have on those with more tenuous connections. Don't these changes simply ask for a reasonable adjustment on the part of the voter? Will cutting back on early-voting hours really take such a toll? Does a change in the rules for identification procedures really make voting suddenly forbidding for some? For the greater number of voters, these concerns might seem like a stretch.
But while the casual observer can be excused for not immediately anticipating the severity of hardship placed on some voters by voting law changes, government officials cannot be extended the same allowances. It is a fair expectation of elected officials that they take responsibility for ensuring equal access to the ballot for all of their constituents. It is up to those who serve the public to guarantee that its members not encounter unnecessary barriers to a right as fundamental as voting. Public officials have extraordinary access to the fundamental systems of democracy, and thus an extraordinary obligation to justify any actions taken that may have an impact on voter participation.
The first duty of those who officiate elections is to ensure that no voter encounters an unfair obstacle to casting a vote. Procedural changes, especially those that potentially increase barriers, should never be made without clear and compelling evidence that they are necessary. If an accelerated pace is proposed, the evidence should indicate some urgency. Otherwise, even when new procedures are indicated, they should be phased in with community input, assessment of impact on turnout, and consultations with other states to gather best practices for success.
If officials want to decrease voting hours, they need to to explain what was wrong with the hours they had. If officials want to tighten ID requirements, they need to say why the previous procedures for identification weren't working. If officials want to make fast-paced, wholesale decisions about the integrity of their voter rolls, they'd better explain why their list of eligible voters wasn't better maintained between elections.
Without accusing officials of partisan motivations, we can still place the onus on them for justifying policy decisions that threaten access to the ballot for eligible voters. In the absence of any credible rationale, and without an abundance of level-headed preparation, no changes in election law should ever be made in an election year.