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October 8, 2020

Senator Ted Kennedy Would Be Proud

By Lawrence S. DiCara, former president of the Boston City Council

No thinking American does not value our right to vote. It is a cornerstone of our freedom. I am proud that I have never missed an election, any election, in 50 years.

Were Ted Kennedy with us, I think he would be quite happy with the new initiative from the Edward M. Kennedy Institute –– “Just Vote” –– a national campaign specifically aimed at increasing voter participation, which has been at best abysmal, with 2016 witnessing extraordinarily low turnouts, especially among young people and communities of color. Statistics suggest there was a participation rate of only 56% in 2016. That puts us at the bottom of the world’s democracies. It is embarrassing. To suggest that we can do better is a great understatement.

This is one of many efforts underway which should help increase participation this fall. Given that so many will be able to vote by mail, there is no reason why fear should prevent anyone from participating in this year’s election.

The results of the recent Tisch College Youth Poll are encouraging. Activism and political engagement among young people are higher than in the past two national elections. The 2020 Youth Electoral Significance Index is quite clear: There are ten states where young people could have a significant influence on not only the presidential race but also important Senate and House contests, including those in Maine, Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota, and Michigan. Young people who have taken to the streets in pursuit of racial justice need to be reminded that the real way to bring about permanent change is at the ballot box.

Sadly, the discussion over the past several months concerning our upcoming election is somewhat comparable to that which may occur in a third world country [not to denigrate third world countries]. As Peggy Noonan, columnist for The Wall Street Journal, recently wrote of the Republican National Convention: “We are not a third-rate Banana Republic, but at the moment we’re imitating one.” Conspiracy theories abound. Threats are often referenced. As a people, we may be moving backwards. Will we see a “scorched earth” campaign emanating from the Rose Garden?

Not since the Jim Crow Era have the efforts of governments, primarily in the South, to discourage voting and disenfranchised voters, been so obvious; the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby v. Holder has empowered many state governments. It is almost as if a playbook has been set forth by those seeking to diminish participation: reduce the number of polling places, harass those who may not hold a driver’s license, thin out voter rolls by removing those who move often (as young people and poor people and others who rent often do).

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute’s suggestion of a hot line that allows people to report examples of voter suppression is long overdue. We will be a better nation as a result of these efforts by the Kennedy Institute, among others.

All men and women of good will should do whatever we can to facilitate voting this year, notwithstanding the Covid-19 pandemic. Martin Luther King, III, whose father fought for the expansion of our national franchise over 50 years ago, was recently quoted as saying “My father used to say, a voteless people is a powerless people.”

When speaking to young people throughout the years, I have often suggested that I would prefer that they be good Republicans than to sit at home idly and not participate in politics. As did Ted Kennedy, I believe there is room in both political parties for men and women of good will who are loyal to their nation and are prepared to work together to make it better.

The Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the United States Senate is a nonprofit, nonpartisan, civic education organization in Boston envisioned by the late Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Through a range of exhibits, interactive educational offerings, and topical programs, the Institute engages students and visitors in a conversation about the essential role each person plays in our democracy and in our society.