This past November, I went to Florida to help mobilize voters to increase participation in communities of color and raise the voice of those often unheard. While there, I witnessed firsthand what we all have seen on TV — terrible voting lines that forced community members to wait hours to cast their ballots. However, these perpetual voting challenges are not isolated to Florida. Even here in Maryland, we have a long, long way to go to ensure that the right to vote for Marylanders is easy and accessible for all. Like in Florida, my friends and family here in Baltimore City also waited hours to vote. I know of many in our communities who have been so discouraged by the process that they don't vote at all.
We must fix our broken democracy so that the electoral process is not fraught with obstacles for voters but encourages and supports the right to vote. Gov. Martin O'Malley's voting rights bill, which he signed into law on Thursday, is a great first step to engage and support Maryland's electorate. As a leader of the grassroots organization, Communities United, I commend Governor O'Malley for his leadership on this issue and am so grateful to the broad coalition of organizations that worked diligently for it's passage.
The bill, which will expand early voting and allow for same-day registration during the early voting period, is a real sign of progress toward improving voter access. The changes in this bill will make it easier for working-class people, who cannot afford to lose paid work time and wait hours to vote, to participate in the democratic process. We support this legislation as it was signed into law because it will provide tremendous benefits to residents throughout the state.
However, Mr. O'Malley's voting rights bill is merely a first step. We have yet to cross the finish line on voting rights, and there is much more work to be done.
In the last mayoral election in Baltimore, a mere 12 percent of voters went to the polls. If we are going to address the social and economic challenges that our city and state face, we must engage more citizens in voting. If we are to engage more citizens in voting, we must actively work for an electoral process that truly supports the engagement of all Marylanders.
Nationwide, voting rights are under attack by special interest groups and some elected officials. Every day we read in the press new proposals for voter identification bills and other methods of voter suppression throughout the country. It is critical that Maryland step forward as a real leader in progressive voting rights policies and electoral reform. While other states move to restrict voting rights, Maryland should serve as a model of voter empowerment for the rest of the country.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. As we look back to see how far we have come, it can only inspire us to see how far we can go. This voting bill is an important first step, but there's still a long road to walk until we achieve the freedom that all Marylanders deserve.
Margaret Williams, Baltimore