Opinion | Honor Congressman John Lewis with record-breaking voter turnout

Editor’s note: This article was initially published by Bridge. 

President and CEO, United Way for Southeastern Michigan

Our nation is in mourning having recently said goodbye to civil rights legends Congressman John Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian. These two titans embodied courage, fortitude and humility and led our country through some of its darkest moments so that we could all be treated with dignity and have access to every opportunity granted to us as Americans. I am deeply saddened by their passing and at the same time in complete awe of how they lived each moment of their lives in service of others before themselves. This is a tremendous loss for our country, especially right now as people flood the streets to demonstrate and protest against discrimination and racial injustice.

As I reflect on these losses and consider how best to celebrate their lives of service, activism, and commitment to defending the civil rights of all, the way to honor them is clear. Vote. Vote big. Shatter turnout records. Every single one of us must use our voice and make those who fought for our right to do so proud. I cannot think of a more fitting tribute.

But amidst a pandemic this is not as simple as it sounds and ensuring everyone is able to vote requires action on our part as legislators and election administrators continue to debate ways to protect public health and safety, while ensuring secure and unfettered access to the ballot.

First and foremost, lawmakers must agree that people should not have to choose between safeguarding their health and exercising their right to vote. Immediate steps must be taken to ensure Michiganders have ready access to secure mail-in ballots as well as safe, sanitary, and accessible voting locations in their communities. This is why United Way for Southeastern Michigan has joined VoteSafe Michigan, a bipartisan coalition of nonprofit organizations and community leaders dedicated to ensuring everyone can vote safely and securely in this year’s elections. We are advocating for:

All states and US territories to ensure voters have accessible, secure mail-in ballots and safe, in-person voting sites.
Congress to ensure that states have the resources necessary to protect their voters and elections.
You can learn more or lend your support to this effort by visiting www.mi.votesafe.us.

But, ensuring everyone can vote only gets us halfway there. We each have responsibility to take advantage of that opportunity. These may be polarizing times, but certainly we all agree on the founding principle of government for and by the people. Let’s reaffirm our commitment to that ideal by truly rocking this vote with an historic turnout this year.

In 2016, only 63 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot and only 55 percent in 2018. In fact, in the last 50 years, Michigan’s turnout has never been higher than 65 percent. We owe it not just to legends like Congressman Lewis and Rev. C.T. Vivian, but to ourselves and future generations to fulfill our civic duty.

Talk to your friends, family, coworkers, fellow parishioners, neighbors and anyone who will listen about the importance of voting. Not about partisanship or policy. I’m talking about the power and responsibility to actively take part in our democracy. Beyond who wins or loses, there is power, pride, and value in the act of voting itself. John Lewis and countless others dedicated their lives to this principle. Some gave their lives. Let’s honor their memories by making our voices heard on every ballot question, in every election. There is no doubt we will be a better community, state and nation for it.