Americans are proud of the democracy we live in — or at least, the one we think we live in. Many people think of poll taxes and other forms of voter suppression as things of the past, but there’s a frightening amount of it going on today. In order for “register your protest in the voting booth” to work, we need fair elections accessible to all voters. Registration deadlines will be here before you know it. Here are some easy but crucial things you can do to help!
(By the way, I know the formatting is wonky here. It looks great in my draft, but something about the switch to the new tools in WordPress is scrunching it up and changing font sizes here. Ah well!)
What can you do to make Election Day 2020 as fair, safe, and accessible as possible?
1) Encourage everyone you know to check they’re registered to vote — and register if they’re not. Registration dates creep up fast, and many states don’t allow same-day registration, so don’t sleep on this.
2) Send postcards to registered Democratic voters to encourage them to vote. This group includes information on key races local to the people you’re mailing.
3) Demand that Congress invest in Covid-19 protection measures so people can safely go to the polls in November. The League of Women Voters suggests $4 billion in the next stimulus package.
4) Get counted in the census and volunteer for efforts to make sure everyone gets properly counted. So many vital funding decisions are made based on answers to the census, because legislators are figuring out where to allocate funds. Help people in underserved areas get properly counted so their neighborhoods will be eligible for more funds in the future.
5) Demand Congress support the US Postal Service and mail-in voting. The USPS isn’t struggling because it’s a bad business, it’s struggling because of a 2006 law that requires it to pre-fund pensions, which no one else has to do. More recently, the new Postmaster General (appointed by the President) has slowed the mail down intentionally, insisting that postal workers delay delivering even 1st class mail if they can’t fit it in their scheduled hours. This is affecting small business owners, all the people in rural areas who get their Amazon, UPS, and FedEx packages from the USPS (because those companies refuse to deliver to certain areas as it’s not profitable), and my mother, so you’d better believe I’m upset about it!
Congress can help, and it must, if we’re going to be able to process the projected Covid-influenced increase in mail-in ballots in the fall. Mail-in voting fraud is a smokescreen, not a valid concern, and we must fight this suppression of mail-in/advance voting. In the meantime, encourage anyone you know planning to vote in advance to take their ballot to a dropbox or their election center (often city hall) to help out, and if they’re mailing it, to mail by October 20th so it will definitely be counted.
6) Sign up to be a poll worker on election day. The machinery has to move on the day of, and you can help that happen (it’s often paid, too).
What can you do to make voting in future years as fair, safe, and accessible as possible?
1) There are several bills being held up by Republicans that would help more people vote more easily and safely across the country. Get the contact info for all elected officials here.
a) Since the death of John Lewis (RIP), there’s been a lot of pressure on Senate Leader Mitch McConnell to bring forward the now re-named John Lewis Voting Rights Act for a vote. (The House already passed it.) Bombard McConnell’s office with calls, letters, and emails. One of the key things this bill would reinstate would be rules saying that states with a history of racist discrimination need federal oversight before making changes to voting rules. This was gutted by a Supreme Court decision in 2013, and since then we’ve seen a flood of gerrymandering, purging of voter rolls, and so on, proving that we needed that protection.
b) Senator Tom Udall and cosponsors introduced the For the People Act in the Senate in March 2019, but you guessed it, Republicans won’t even give it a hearing. The Act (read the full text here) would mandate, among other things, online voter registration, automatic registration, same-day registration, improved access to voting for people with disabilities, an overhaul of redistricting laws to prevent gerrymandering, provisions against election hacking, and funding to support all these changes. There is a LOT of good stuff in this bill, and despite the fact that both my senators support it, I’ve never heard of it! It needs to get a proper hearing, debate, and vote in the Senate (and a companion bill in the House so they can get moving together).
2) End gerrymandering — rigging redistricting to favor one political party over another based on which demographics end up in the new district. This is commonly known as giving politicians the power to choose their voters, rather than the other way around.
3) End Voter ID laws. They don’t prevent fraud (their ostensible reason for existing), but they do prevent people already at a disadvantage from being able to vote (like people who can’t afford an ID, people who don’t have a fixed address).
4) End felony disenfranchisement. It’s all very well and good to encourage people to get out and vote, but at least 6.1 million adults can’t vote in the US. State laws impose various restrictions: in some, prisoners can’t vote but everyone else can; in others, prisoners and those on parole can’t vote but everyone else can; and in some, even after you have served your sentence, you are barred for life from voting.
Floridians recently voted to expand felon voting rights, but the Florida legislature infamously passed a law reversing nearly all of it. In early June, a judge struck down that law’s requirement that people with felony convictions pay court fees and fines before being allowed to vote — that’s so obviously a poll tax, it’s stunning. That’s an example of how this struggle is ongoing, and you can engage your state lawmakers with it.
5) Fix how how purging of voter rolls works. It’s meant to remove people who have died or moved out of state, but it’s been used in recent years especially as a way to remove legitimately registered, resident, and living citizens from voting, often close enough to an election that they don’t have time to re-register and therefore lose their vote.
6) Make Election Day a national holiday, as it is in other countries like Australia. This makes it easier for people squeezing in voting around child care, shift work, inflexible bosses, and commute times can be sure they will get to vote. Get it going on the state level — it’s already a holiday in five states — and keep up the pressure at the national level.