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Remembering Elijah Cummings: The Power of the Vote

By Abigail Simard



The last words of Elijah Cummings’s mother were, “do not let them take our votes away from us.”


In the wake of his death, there is no doubt that Cummings dedicated his career to this plea, even before it was made. Known for his civil rights activism, Elijah Cummings has been a champion for voting rights for years.

 

Just before the 2012 election, concerns arose about the conservative, anti-voter-fraud group True the Vote when their intentions to closely monitor the election became known. Fearing the impact on minority voters, Cummings confronted the group and launched an investigation into their intentions. 


The next year, the Supreme Court struck down the formula in Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act that identified states and jurisdictions with histories of racist voting practices in Shelby County v. Holder. In response, Cummings advocated tirelessly for the Voting Rights Act to be fully restored. He was a sharp critic of states that passed legislation with negative effects on the voting rights of minorities.


More recently, as chairman of the House Oversight Committee, he has launched investigations following the 2018 midterm elections. The first investigation announced by the committee surrounded claims of voter suppression in the Georgia gubernatorial election. Later, investigations into other states commenced. One focused on Texas in response to accusations of purging voter lists, and the other on Kansas investigating the moving of polling places away from minority districts.


This leadership on the issue of voting rights has been pointed to as evidence of the dedicated civil rights leader America has lost. This sentiment was clear across the many leaders who spoke in his memory, including Barack Obama, who described “his commitment to justice and the rights of others” as something that would “never, ever waver.” Yet as much influence as Cummings had, he passed away with his work unfinished. As the country moves forward from this loss, we must not forget to take action to continue his work.


Cummings described voting as “the essence of our democracy.” 


Without a doubt, voting is the most obvious way Americans participate in government. While the vote looked very different at our country’s founding, the concept was the same: voting allows the American People to hold their representatives accountable for defending their freedoms.


While universal suffrage is clearly a way to ensure the integrity of our democracy, the right to vote is also symbolic. Voting is more than an aspect of government; it is a recognition of citizenship. It is a recognition of humanity. If we cannot recognize the humanity of every American citizen by allowing them to cast their ballot and have it counted, how can we claim the equality and freedom that were so important to the founding of this nation?


The answer is a simple one: we cannot.


Equality cannot exist as long as the right to vote remains less applicable to certain Americans. These Americans─citizens of a country that takes pride in democratic ideals─being denied their constitutional right to vote is evidence of a failing democracy. 


This is what Elijah Cummings understood so well. This is why he fought so tirelessly to restore this right that is “the essence of our democracy.”


Just one year from an election day that will decide so much about our nation, Americans are left with a task to continue a legacy. 


Either we build on the achievements of the leader we have lost, or we allow our democracy to fail. There is no other option.



Abigail Simard is a freshman studying Creative Writing and English, from Farmington, Connecticut.