Roadblocks to the Ballot Box

By Edward M. Kennedy
Wednesday, August 26, 2009; 11:57 AM

Editor's note: This letter was first published in The Post on Jan. 29, 1973. We republish it today, along with several Kennedy opinions, on the occasion of Kennedy's death.

Perhaps the best face that can be put on Mr. George Will's recent article, "Word in Defense of low voter turnout" on your editorial page, is that it has the ring of a tongue-in-cheeck defense of the indefensible. Otherwise, it is difficult to see his arguments as anything more than a Marie Antionette "let them eat cake" rejection of the principle on which our democracy is founded -- that voting is the basic right of all, not just the privilege of the few.

If Mr. Will really believes that existing voter registration requirements are simply a "gossamer" barrier that fulfills a "useful" purpose in our democracy, then he doesn't understand the problem.

In almost every other sphere in which government now operates -- at the federal, state or local level -- it uses the tools of the modern world. Why is it that Americans still have to register to vote by methods which may have been adequate when they were adopted at the turn of the century, but which are as out of date today as the Pony Express or the Model T?

Each community feels the problem. In some, the registration office closes months before the election. In others, the registration office is closed on weekends and after work. In still others, there is no real local registration. The only place to register is at City Hall or at the central downtown office of the Election Board -- hours away by bus for thousands of citizens who would be glad to vote if they had a decent chance to register.

Contrary to Mr. Will's assertion, registration is not merely a gossamer barrier against voting. For millions of citizens, it's an impenetrable solid wall that blocks the path to the ballot box on election day. The time has come for Congress to knock it down, and end this serious blight on our political process.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company