The Common Good

Watch the Vote: What's at Stake?

[Editor's Note: This is the first article in an election season blog series called Watch the Vote.]

In today's hyper-politicized climate, all of the hoo-hah about voter suppression can sound like a bunch of partisan pandering on both sides.

If you're just tuning it can easily look like Democrats are whining and crafting conspiracy theories over something that really won't matter in the end, anyway — so why waste your breath?

Or, for the even more cynical, sure, it might matter, but there's nothing we can do about it — so again, why waste our breath?

Here's why. Check this out.

Mid-May 2011: U.S. Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Penn.) introduced a bill that would require Pennsylvania voters to present one of only a few forms of government-issued photo ID every time they vote. Previously, Pennsylvanians were only required to show ID the first time they voted and a wide range of ID was acceptable. On March 14, 2012 Governor Tom Corbett (R-PA) signed the bill into law.

May 25, 2011: Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) signed Act 22 into law; a voter suppression measure that stripped hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites of their right to vote.

July 1, 2011: Ohio Governor John Kasich (R) signed a sweeping bill into law that shortened the state's early voting period, banned Sunday voting, and forbade boards of elections from mailing absentee ballot requests to voters.

For more than a year, reports like these have bubbled up of voter suppression tactics developing in the legislatures and governors' offices of swing states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and Pennsylvania, but they are not alone. During the last two years, 30 of our 50 states have introduced legislation or enacted laws that severely limit citizens' voting rights. Check out this incredible Voter Suppression map developed just to help keep track of the madness.

And for a hilarious and earnest take on the incredulity of the moment, check out this Jon Stewart clip on the subject.

Here's an amazing article from Alexander Keyssar (Harvard Kennedy School of Government) in the July-August 2012 issue of Harvard Magazine. Keyssar makes plain why every American, Republican or Democrat, should care about voter suppression in a democracy.

For my part, I'm most concerned with why every follower of Jesus — Republican or Democrat — should care.

Why should Jesus followers watch the vote? Because America's democracy-succinctly captured by our informal credo "one person, one vote"-is a powerful expression of God's declaration to every human being in the very beginning : "have dominion."

In my book Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics, I go into this in more detail, but for the purposes of this post I will focus on one thing: the connection between dominion and the vote.

Genesis 1:26 declares:

"Let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness, and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over the cattle and over all the wild animals of the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth."

With this declaration, God links the call to exercise dominion with the very fact that we are made in God's image. This declaration is the ultimate equalizer.

In a cultural context rife with hierarchies, the writer of Genesis levels the playing field. In the writer's context, kings were thought to embody the image of God on earth. Rulers alone were ordained to exercise dominion. The environmental elements were thought to be gods in their own right.

So, it is all the more marvelous that into this context the writer of Genesis declares all humanity is made in God's image and every human being is called by God to exercise dominion.

In the agrarian context of the original Genesis readers, dominion would have been understood as a call to steward the land, to care for it and maintain the wellness of the relationships that God created and declared "very good" in the beginning.

Today, the closest thing we have to understanding "dominion" is the word "agency." Agency is the ability to make decisions that impact one's world. When that ability is diminished, hindered, or revoked, then the very image of God in human beings is diminished, bound up, and denied in everyday people.

In a democracy, the ability to vote is the purest form of the ability to exercise agency; it is the simplest and greatest act of dominion. It equalizes all. The vote stands at the core of the grand idea that is America-the idea that all of us are created equal.

Just as God leveled the playing field by declaring that both men and women are made in the image of God, so our democratic Constitution and its amendments level our political playing field. They declare that no person shall have their right to vote hindered based on race, color, or gender and shall not be denied or abridged by the imposition of a poll tax or other tax (Amendments 15, 19, and 24).

According to the ACLU, as many as 5 million Americans could be turned away at the polls this November. In many cases, the people most vulnerable to the effects of these legislative maneuvers will be African-Americans, poor people, students, and the elderly-all groups who tend to lean toward the Democratic Party on election day.

What is at stake in this voter suppression debate?

In the political realm the intrinsic equality of every American is at stake. In the spiritual realm, the image of God in America is at stake. By suppressing the vote, some among us have unwittingly launched a campaign to suppress the image of God in our land.

That is why Jesus followers care about voter suppression.

Here are a few sites you can go to watch the vote and get ready to exercise your dominion!

TurboVote: Make the voting process as "awesome as renting a DVD from Netflix." You sign up, and they'll keep track of all your rules and deadlines and even send you all the forms you need. All you have to do is sign the forms and drop them in the mail.

PopVox: Find a bill you care about and let Congress know what you think!

Google Politics & Elections: Check out non-partisan analysis of election trends and events

Check back next week for an update on key state voter suppression battles and an in-depth look at TurboVote!

Lisa Sharon Harper is the director of mobilizing at Sojourners. She is also co-author of Left, Right and Christ: Evangelical Faith in Politics and author of Evangelical Does Not Equal Republican ... or Democrat.

Photo credit: Ballot image by Andrey Burmakin /Shutterstock.

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