Sunday Voting: An Extension of Unalienable Rights

Voting is the bedrock of our community, the foundation on which our nation was built. For a democracy to continue to thrive, civic engagement must rise to ensure each and every voice is heard at the local, state, and federal levels of government.

In an effort to combat low voter turnout, some counties throughout Georgia have begun the process of allowing Sunday voting.  Sadly, there are those who oppose Sunday voting out of fear that African American churches will encourage their congregations to head to the polls.  In a state that has a turbulent history of racial division and voter suppression, I’m gravely concerned that this ideology prevails over voter participation in 2014.

I have the pleasure and honor of representing portions of DeKalb and Henry counties.  I’m extremely proud that DeKalb made the move to permit Sunday voting and give voters another day to cast their ballots. However, I was disheartened to learn that a similar measure in Henry County failed to gain enough support from local leaders to become a reality.  I believe casting your vote is one of our most basic rights as Americans and should be as convenient as possible.

Why should any government or county commissioner prohibit that from taking place?  I believe that most reasonable people, regardless of political affiliation, would agree with me.  To those in our state who are against Sunday voting, I will leave you with this: What are you afraid of?

Many individuals are unable to make time during the workday due to a number of obligations: some cannot afford to take the time off while others have a lack of child care.  The list goes on and on. Simply put, voting on November 4 isn’t an option for every Georgian who is eligible to do so.  And while we have absentee ballots and early voting, the ability to cast a ballot on Sunday would be another tool in our arsenal to guarantee we have as much participation in the election as possible.

In a state that has endured Jim Crowe and poll taxes, the obstruction of Sunday voting in many Georgia counties feels eerily familiar. It’s only been 50 years since Congress passed and ratified the 24th Amendment which prohibits poll taxes to ensure African Americans did not face barriers at the ballot box.

While we have experienced tremendous progress in race relations throughout the past half century, I’m left wondering if we truly have learned from history and the misguided attempts to suppress votes. If, as the opposition has suggested, Sunday voting would be used by black preachers to get people to the polls, couldn’t white churches do the same thing?

The same goes for any ethnically diverse place of worship that millions of Georgians attend every week. Our state was founded on the teachings of Christianity and it would be unconscionable to suggest that religious leaders don’t already encourage voting in some form or another.

Of the states that allow early in-person voting, 22 states, along with the District of Columbia, allow some weekend early voting. Three states (Alaska, Illinois and Maryland) explicitly allow for Sunday voting, and Ohio is in the midst of a court case that would re-establish Sunday early voting. Four states (California, Florida, Georgia and Nevada) leave it up to county clerks who may choose to be open on Sundays. Eighteen states and the District of Columbia explicitly provide for voting on Saturday while additional states (California, Kansas and Vermont) leave it up to county clerks who may choose to allow Saturday voting.

As you can tell from the states mentioned, the majority of Sunday/weekend voting occurs in the northeast as well as the west; parts of our country that didn’t face the deep racial divide that took place in Georgia.

While I’m pleased Georgia is state that does allow Sunday voting (in certain counties), the power is in the hands of local leaders who may have corrupt intentions. Georgia is a diverse state and is changing by the day.

We must acknowledge that a “one size fits all” approach is the opposite of what Americans deserve when they cast their vote.  Sunday voting, as well as Saturday, provide two extra days for hard-working people to exercise one of their most basic rights.

It is my hope that common sense and open-minded rationale will quickly make the debate on Sunday voting a thing of the past.  Until then, I implore people of good will to call on your local officials to put partisan politics aside. All Georgians deserve the right to vote at a time that is most convenient to them, regardless of race, religion, or any socioeconomic factor.

About the author

Emanuel Jones

Sen. Emanuel Jones serves Chairman of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Advisory Council and represents the 10th Senate District, which includes portions of DeKalb and Henry counties. He may be reached at 404.656.0502 or by email at emanuel.jones@senate.ga.gov.