Last October, I attended the Voter Education for Inclusion, Informed, and Ethical Participation conference in New Delhi, India. Representatives of more than 25 countries from six continents participated in this conference, where they gave presentations about how they’re working to expand the voting franchise in their country. As the Chairman of the EAC, I had the honor of representing the United States.
While in India, I presented two papers, and I carried with me the story of the expansion of the voting franchise to all men and women in the United States. I also carried the stories of the bloodshed and immense effort that it took to expand the franchise. It has been hard won by many people in this country and some are still fighting for improved access. Aware of the continued struggle, I spoke on the EAC’s efforts regarding serving military and overseas voters and voters with disabilities.
Upon landing in India, I was struck by the contrast that was immediately apparent. On my drive, I witnessed people so poor that they were living in the streets next to people climbing in and out of luxury vehicles. This was exasperated by the pure number of people that live in India. With a population of more than one billion people, India is the world’s largest democracy.
India’s large population also means a high number of voters. Most studies show that India has close to 750 million eligible voters. This is more than three times the number of registered voters in the United States. So administering elections requires some unique tactics and intense dedication. India has polling places that reach far into the country and their government utilizes mobile polling locations to help remote voters cast their ballots. I even heard a story about a mobile voting location that was set up for use by a single voter. It apparently took the government days to reach this voter, but they still made sure that he could cast a vote.
Hearing about India’s extraordinary efforts to reach every voter reinforced my belief that each of our countries has a lot to learn from one other while we continue to improve our election administration, especially when it comes to ensuring that voting is accessible for everyone. The EAC’s voter rights cards and other efforts with the Accessible Voting Technology Initiative have produced almost 50 products that assist voters with disabilities. Most notably, the EAC helped wounded warriors cast their ballots. Yet, more can always be done, and the EAC will continue to work to ensure that every individual who has a disability has the same access and opportunity to cast their ballots.
I truly enjoyed my opportunity to gather insight from our new partners from around the world. I am sure that collaborative projects and summits like this one will continue to help election officials and other stakeholders in the United States administer elections for all voters.
To see more photos from Chairman Hicks' trip to India visit our International Conference on Voter Education for Inclusive Informed & Ethical Participation Facebook Photo Album.