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'Voting is how we defeat hate,' so let's make it easier to do

People, including recently released felons, are registering to vote in time for the April 26, 2016 primary election. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun)

It’s time for this country to reimagine the conversation around voting.

Why are there so many barriers to voting if we’re a democracy? The seemingly simple act of registering to vote is in fact, a suppressive tactic. As easy as voting should be, the current system continues to place barriers in front of communities of color, to block us from making a true impact on the electoral process.

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Radical or not, we must change the American electoral process to increase voter turnout and civic engagement. Investing in a multi-pronged approach to ensure everyone’s voice within our country is heard and accounted for is paramount.

An Army vet says automatic voter registration would benefit everyone, but particularly those in the military.

This means registering citizens automatically to ensure that everyone in this country has the equal opportunity to vote. This means eliminating restrictions on polling locations to make voting more convenient and accessible to all. This means making voting easier to do, whether it’s a national holiday or on a weekend, so that Americans — most of whom are paid hourly — don’t have to choose between their work responsibilities and casting their ballots. This means exploring a potential road map to a mandatory voting system that is implemented by some of the most successful democracies in the world. A concerted effort must be made.

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When we look at the results of the 2016 election, it’s easy to be reminded of the hatred and bigotry that has permeated our country. Not only are our civil rights under attack from so many sophisticated and coordinated directions, but we’ve seen an assault on our right to exercise our voice and confront these pressing issues because of our broken voting system.

Evidence shows that compulsory voting lifts civic engagement overall, but our current administration still tries to make the case for imposing restrictive measures on voting. During a recent speech in Tampa, Fla., President Trump advocated that Americans must show ID to vote, pushing the myth that noncitizens somehow vote in American elections despite no evidence of widespread voter fraud.

President Trump wrongly claimed that shoppers need to show photo identification to buy groceries and accused Democrats of obstructing his agenda and his Supreme Court nominee during a raucous rally aimed at bolstering two Florida Republicans ahead of the state's primary.

Let us be clear, their tactics and proposed laws are meant to suppress our basic democratic right: voting.

Right now, these harsh political realities have come to life in full force as we’ve seen a determined effort from the Trump administration to demonize America’s ethnic and cultural diversity to gain political power. This is why we must take our fight to the ballot box, and the NAACP is committed to be the compass to lead the way.

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Voting is how we will defeat hate. It is the key to systematic change and the only way to assure a free and fair election.

Maryland lawmakers gave final approval Wednesday to a bill that would automatically register residents to vote when they deal with certain state agencies, including when obtaining or renewing driver’s licenses.

When we cast our vote, we need to elect public servants who will fight to change the current direction of the country and hold themselves accountable. If elected officials betray us on the issues that affect our communities most, it should be the NAACP’s job to deny them the black vote. The presidential election is the watermark, but we need to vote in every state and local election to elect mayors, judges, clerks and local board members who will commit to uphold ethics, decency, equality and the basic tenets of democracy. Our voices and our vote should resound in every level of government across this nation.

If we aren’t voting and using our voice, others will speak for us. We are going to mobilize with everything in our power — and we have all the power we need to defeat hate if we simply vote.

Derrick Johnson (Twitter: @DerrickNAACP) is the president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).

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