My father was a Tuskegee Airman. As a veteran of World War II, he fought to protect the very ideals that make our nation great. When he returned from the war, he found his country still had little respect for him and his fellow Black veterans, regardless of their sacrifices in the name of freedom. He cast his first vote in 1956, for Eisenhower. But voting restrictions on Black Americans only tightened over the years. Barriers ranging from nearly incomprehensible literacy tests to blatant acts of intimidation and violence kept many voters away from the polls.

In 2019, we celebrated the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment — what we largely credit with giving women the right to vote. But for my mother and Black women like her, legal protection of her right to cast a ballot didn’t come until the Voting Rights Act of 1965. In the last few years, we’ve seen voter protections peeled away. With the evisceration of the 1965 Voting Rights Actthe expiration of the 1982 consent decree that curbed GOP polling place intimidation, and even attacks on the Postal Service, voter suppression outbreaks have become an epidemic. The highest tenet of American democracy is that all citizens have equal protection and representation under the law. When we erode any citizen’s right to vote, we endanger the very life of our democracy.

There is some good news. Maine has some of the strongest voting laws in the nation. I’m grateful to live in a state that honors and protects the right to vote. This past year, election officials truly did yeoman’s work to find ways to make sure all citizens could safely cast their ballot, while ensuring election clerks had the time they needed to process those ballots. From online ballot request and tracking, to secure drop-off boxes, the elections this past year were more accessible than ever before. I’m encouraged to see the secretary of state pushing to make these accessible innovations a permanent part of Maine statute.

But this is not the case elsewhere in the country. After years of grassroots efforts to register voters and get more people to the polls, leveling the playing field in elections, politicians in states like Georgia and Louisiana are doing their best to take us back as close to Jim Crow as they can get. Don’t let their excuses and unfounded claims fool you. The federal government’s own investigation shows that the 2020 general election was “the most secure in American history.” There is no sound, rational, compassionate reason to make it a crime to give someone water while they wait in line to cast a vote. There can be no mistaking these politicians’ motivations.

Unfortunately, I have seen these efforts spread in Maine as well. I’ve listened to testimony from people tripping over themselves trying to explain why making it harder to vote somehow supports our democratic institutions or increases election integrity. These range from utterly baseless concerns about voter fraud to fretting over offensive accusations of what hardworking election clerks will do if they have “too much time” to count ballots.

American voters deserve to know they have a government that is working in their best interest, always. Throwing up barriers to voting is simply not the way to do that. That’s not how we increase civic engagement. I am now serving my third term on the Joint Standing Committee on Veterans and Legal Affairs, so I am familiar with the contours and nuance of the laws governing elections. When every eligible voter feels compelled to vote in every single election — federal, state and local — only then can we truly know to what the governed have consented.

Voter suppression, depression and dilution is nothing new. Restrictions on how people can vote don’t exist in a vacuum. The fight for the right to vote has gone on for centuries and will continue for decades to come. I’ll be on the frontlines of that fight so long as I draw breath. While I remain encouraged by the steadfast support of strong, accessible voting laws in Maine, I know we must remain vigilant. Your vote matters to me — especially if you disagree with me, don’t care for me or would never vote for me. And because I believe, fully, that your vote matters as much as mine, I will do all I can to make sure every citizen’s right and ability to vote remains intact and unimpeded.

Craig Hickman is a Democratic state senator from Winthrop.

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