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Utility bills can be used to vote

Here in Minnesota, we are very fortunate to have a strong election system. We are fortunate to have same-day registration allowing a voter to register moments before casting a ballot. We have absentee voting and, more recently, early voting from now until Nov. 7.

Minnesota's efforts to remove barriers for eligible voters and increase access to the ballot box has worked. Minnesotans and, specifically, Duluthians are some of the most civically engaged citizens in the nation. We should absolutely be proud of that distinction. But not every state is as fortunate.

Historically there have been numerous efforts in creating barriers to voting. Starting in the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was the creation of poll taxes, a financial burden that many poor African-American and working-class families were unable or unwilling to pay. There were also literacy tests, which were nearly impossible for the undereducated to pass; this was aimed at suppressing the vote of former slaves in the late 1800s. Women weren't extended the right to vote until 1920.

It wasn't until the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that any "test or device" to qualify voters on the basis of literacy, education or fluency in English was eradicated. And it even took a year later, 1966, for poll taxes to be deemed unconstitutional.

Unfortunately there have been recent efforts by various states, even here in Minnesota, to make voting more difficult. These efforts have consisted of tightening the window for absentee and early voting and making overseas voting more difficult, directly suppressing the voice of our active military members. Some states ban same-day registration, require proof of citizenship and enact expensive voter ID laws.

There are fewer things in government I find more revolting than deliberately weakening our democracy and actively suppressing voters. I am an ardent believer that governments need to constantly and intentionally engage with its citizens. The most broad and significant way that governments tangibly interact with the majority of the public is through the ballot box.

There are very few times in our society when everyone is counted equally. Election Day is one of them: one person, one vote regardless of your gender, race, income, the neighborhood you live in or your religion.

I have launched an initiative, in partnership with the city administration, to reach out to more Duluthians to encourage and remind them to vote. This month residents inside Duluth city limits, over 30,000 households, will receive an insert with their Comfort Systems bill. It encourages recipients to vote and informs them that they can take their October Comfort Systems bill — or any utility bill due or dated within 30 days of the election — to register same-day. It can be used if you haven't updated your driver's license or registered to vote at your current residence.

I am proud of this nonpartisan effort. It reaches renters, homeowners, old and young alike, new and longtime residents, disabled and abled-bodied, and all neighborhoods equally. This is also a first effort of its kind in the state of Minnesota.

I was honored to welcome and stand with Secretary of State Steve Simon in Duluth Sept. 26. He applauded our efforts here to broaden the circle of engagement and increase voter participation. Voting is one the of the most sacred rights that we have in America. I believe that it is our job as government officials to make voting easy and accessible for all eligible voters.

Noah Hobbs is an At Large Duluth city councilor.

Related: Election 2016: What's on your ballot?

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