You & The Voting Rights Battle of 2021

The Brennan Center for Justice recently published “Voting Laws Roundup 2021” (February 8, 2021) By their count, 33 states had proposed about 100 bills to restrict voting access versus 37 states that proposed about 400 bills to expand voting access.

It doesn’t sound too dismal, does it? Not until you read the details, some of which include:
• Eliminate no-excuse mail voting and eliminate drop boxes
• Require mail ballots to be notarized
• Allow the general public unobstructed access to observe absentee ballot processing and expand voter roll purges.
• Prohibit using student ID’s and require citizenship verification.

On the other hand, there’s legislation proposed to:
• Expand vote by mail and increase ballot drop boxes
• Improve “notice and cure” practices so voter errors can be corrected
• Expand return deadlines and start processing mail ballots early
• Allow same-day and automatic voter registration
• Restore voting rights to former prisoners

So, while state legislators battle over these changes, what can we – you and I – do to promote voting rights? Two thoughts come to mind.

First, make sure your representatives know how you and your friends are thinking. Thank those who have promoted rights and make sure voting rights opponents also know how you feel. Get your friends in other states involved, too.

Second, make the effort to understand the voters who believe and feel very differently from you. This is not the same as agreeing or coming to a compromise. Many excellent books and articles have appeared on how to listen carefully and ask questions that don’t make people angry or defensive. Adam Granth published an editorial, “The Science of Reasoning with Unreasonable People” in the New York Times (Jan. 31, 2021), subtitled “Don’t try to change someone else’s mind. Instead, help them find their own motivation to change.” See also Megan Phelps-Roper’s TED Talk from 2019 with “4 tips for talking to people you disagree with,” including different values.

We are all Americans and need to find something in common with fellow Americans, whether they think like us or not. I’d love to hear your ideas for more ways to bridge the divide that exists today.

COVID-19 Threatens Democracy, Too

How long can the primaries be postponed, and what will happen in November? Nine states have postponed primary elections due to the Corona virus.  (https://www.cnn.com/2020/03/16/politics/state-primaries-postponed-coronavirus/index.html.)

What will happen If the crisis lasts past the new election dates?  The U.S. has never cancelled federal elections before — even during WWII, soldiers were sent special vote-by-mail ballots if they didn’t have “absentee” ones. (https://americanhistory.si.edu/democracy-exhibition/vote-voice/keeping-vote/state-rules-federal-rules/soldier-vote.)

Alaska has seized this opportunity to convert to vote-by-mail, for the primary at least, and Maryland is mailing ballots for the special election for Elijah Cummings’s Congressional seat.  But most states don’t have the resources to switch to vote-by-mail – it’s expensive. The $2 Trillion stimulus package makes a start, but offers states only a small fraction of what’s needed. The League of Women Voters explains at https://www.lwv.org/newsroom/press-releases/covid-19-stimulus-package-falls-short-adequate-election-funding.  Another benefit of vote-by-mail is its paper trail.  No complex, online system is un-hackable. Tallies and recounts must have the ability to be audited.

Expense is one obstacle to vote-by-mail. The other is a tradition of voter suppression.  Some states (AL, AR, CT, MA, MO, NH, WV) require an excuse from all voters, and others (IN, KY, LA, MS, TN, TX, SC ) recognize seniors might have difficulties getting to their polling stations and don’t require them to provide an excuse. (https://www.voteathome.org/ ) The application process varies in difficulty by state, but is always easier for people with cars and the ability to take time off from work without losing wages. The process is clearly intended to discourage poor and minority voters.

A less expensive, but riskier option in the short term, is simply to extend early voting.  Allow enough time for voters to show up in manageable groups, during and after work, staggered by address or other identifier.  And make sure the polling station has enough voting booths and volunteers with masks and gloves to avoid crowding.  Long term, it’s more economical to offer vote-by-mail with centralized voting centers for assistance, and to register people automatically at motor vehicle and social services agencies.

What Can You Do?

Ask your elected representatives and your social media friends to support legislation to adequately fund upcoming elections. And volunteer with groups that promote voting rights and voter registration.  Here’s what your Registrar of Voters should be doing to promote voting according to the League of Women Voters https://www.lwv.org/blog/10-things-elections-officials-can-do-safeguard-our-elections-spring-summer-and-fall?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=033020 and the Brennan Center https://www.brennancenter.org/our-work/research-reports/estimated-costs-covid-19-election-resiliency-measures.  

Fight Back Against Voter Roll Purges

“Minority Voters Purged From Polls” “Arkansas Voter ID Law Upheld”  Each day seems to bring new reports on attacks on citizens’ right to vote, especially African Americans and people of color. Most of us react in one of two ways –  flight or fight. Continue reading “Fight Back Against Voter Roll Purges”

Mi Familia Vota in California’s Central Valley

Are you frustrated by low voter turnout and attempts to suppress voting? Here’s a ridiculously easy way to join the fight…come to a party and donate.

Mi Familia Vota  is a national civic engagement organization that unites Latino, immigrant and allied communities to promote social and and economic justice through citizenship workshops, voter registration and voter participation.  (Check out their Introduction video.)  Continue reading “Mi Familia Vota in California’s Central Valley”