The next presidential election is just over three months away, and America is not ready for it. Voter suppression, coupled with the coronavirus pandemic, has already prevented thousands of people from participating in safe and fair elections. Look no further than the preventable “disaster,” as Stacey Abrams called it, in Georgia’s June 9 primary, where long lines and nonworking voting machines led to what some have described as a full-blown meltdown.
U.S. elections are full of roadblocks that harm people of color, the disabled, and low-income communities. Common provisions include voter ID laws, voter purges, and poll closures. On average, Black voters wait 45% longer to vote than white voters, and Latinx voters wait 46% longer. In 2017, for example, North Carolina tried to pass a voter ID policy that the Supreme Court shut down for targeting Black people with “almost surgical precision.” The issue is often the way the rules they are applied, and how they target Black people and other people of color. For example, if you close polling locations, those communities need alternatives like extended voting hours or the ability to vote by mail.
By keeping people of color from voting, officials are preventing necessary, large-scale change from happening as racism continues to plague America. Police violence, healthcare inequality, affordable housing, and the school-to-prison pipeline are all issues that start at the local level and can be influenced by voting — so it’s no wonder that certain politicians have a vested interest in suppressing the vote. “The people at a local level have the power to shrink the footprint of the criminal legal system and promote healthy and safe communities,” Vanita Gupta, CEO of The Leadership Conference of Human and Civil Rights, told R29Unbothered.
The Leadership Conference recently started the campaign “And Still I Vote” to raise awareness about voter suppression. (It was originally planned as a national tour but, due to COVID-19 concerns, they are sharing their mission on Instagram instead.)
Amid the still-surging pandemic, officials are using COVID-19 as an excuse to close polling places, one of the most blatant forms of suppression. During this year’s primaries, Wisconsin, Georgia, and Kentucky experienced shutdowns that led to limited access to voting and overcrowding.
Current suppression tactics all have historic precedent, according to Ashley Allison, who was the Leadership Conference’s Executive VP of Campaigns & Programs when we spoke with her, but has since joined former VP Joe Biden’s presidential campaign as National Coalitions Director. “A poll tax now looks like a polling location closing,” Allison told R29Unbothered. “A literacy test is now a signature match. It’s the same desire to suppress voters of color, but they just do it in different ways.”
Gupta further explained this political tradition. “From the very founding of our nation, voting has been something that is exclusive,” she said. “There has always been a very well-funded, focused effort to suppress the right to vote.”
The situation is untenable and we need large-scale systemic overhaul in order to continue as a democracy. The Democratic-majority U.S. House has passed several measures, including 2019’s H.R. 1, or the For the People Act, which expands voting rights, limits partisan gerrymandering, and strengthens ethical rules. But, it’s being held up in the U.S. Senate — specifically right-wing Majority Leader Sen. Mitch McConnell — which means it can’t go into effect.
So, what can we do? Even without crucial legislation passed, we can still follow the steps to vote responsibly and advocate for fair and safe elections. Ahead, what you need to know.
Step 1: Get Educated
If you want to make a difference, take time to read up on what you need to know to vote. The website Vote411 provides personalized ballots based on your address and political party. Each ballot includes information on the candidates, contact information, policy questions, and their plans if elected.
Step 2: Make A Plan
Determine how you’re going to vote. Do you want to do it in person or would you rather vote by mail? If you’re voting in person, first, check where your nearest polling location is. If you don’t have any (or enough) nearby, call your local elections board and request more information. If all else fails, make a plan to get to the nearest location safely. If voting by mail: Absentee voting is legal for residents not currently living in their state, but mail-in voting is not supported everywhere. If you’d like to avoid the polls in November, see if your state allows it. Call and ask for voting alternatives.
Step 3: Be Prepared
You can’t rely on polling locations to protect your safety, so come ready for anything and call out bad practices. Wear a mask and bring sanitizer. Keep your distance, and be respectful of others around you. Bring multiple forms of identification, just in case. You can check your local requirements here. Call polling locations ahead of time and see if they have curbside assistance for the disabled. And, if you notice issues that unfairly affect vulnerable groups, say something about it.
Step 4: Follow Through
Even if you don’t think your voice matters, vote. This country has a history of making it seem that people are too insignificant, too Black, too poor, too disabled, too anything, to make a difference. The Leadership Conference disagrees. “To sit it out in this moment, when pretty much everything is at stake in this upcoming election, will be the greatest form of voter suppression and we can’t allow that to happen,” Gupta said.
Step 5: Volunteer To Help Save Voting Rights
This fight doesn’t end on November 3. There are a myriad of organizations that need our help year-round! If you are able to do so, please consider volunteering at or donating to the following:
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