Photos of a protest of largely black people. Someone is holding a sign that says, "Voter suppression is unAmerican."

Michael Fleshman/cc 2.0

Election 2020

Michael Fleshman/cc 2.0

We Still Need to Fight for Voting Rights 

Today is National Voter Registration Day. Thankfully, there are organizations across the country putting in the work to ensure that democracy is accessible to all.

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First observed in 2012, National Voter Registration Day provides an opportunity for organizations and groups to come together to help make sure first-time and previously disenfranchised voters are registered and on the path to accessing the ballot box. Because, while 2016 saw some of the highest voter registration numbers in history—158 million—there’s still a lot of work to be done. To wit, 2018 saw a drop in voter registration by 5 million. But voter registration is only part of the equation. Across the country, organizations and volunteers are building out the processes and mechanisms to defend democracy.

People of color have been ringing the alarm about the real and present danger voter suppression has caused for years. Enter the 2018 midterm election cycle and Stacey Abrams’s gubernatorial campaign in Georgia. As a result of the massive organizing and agitating done by numerous organizers across the country, a mass-awakening seemed to happen around voting rights and the very-clear obstacles facing many existing and potential voters alike.

It seems that finally national interests are lining up with local organizing in the fight to protect our voting rights and expand access to democracy. Across the country, civic engagement and advocacy organizations are building in communities recognizing that the right to vote, while sacrosanct, remains woefully under-protected. Through issue-based advocacy and deep relational engagement, voting rights organizations are engaging existing and potential voters with a holistic view of the field. 

National organizations like Spread the Vote and When We All Vote are helping to build local opportunities to overcome barriers to the voting process. Situated in states with voter-ID laws, Spread the Vote not only helps those in need secure a government-issued ID but will help acquire all the documents needed for proof of identity. 

Although national organizations have a role to play, locally led grassroots groups are building collective power and opportunity from the ground up. From unlawful abortion bans and failures to expand Medicaid to organizing for restoring voting rights it is important we know who our champions are so that we can lift them up and amplify the work being done. Here are three organizations doing amazing work in their respective states that set a tone for democracy-building work nationwide:

Black Leaders Organizing Communities (BLOC): Working in the country’s most segregated city, organizers with BLOC have set out to build collective community opportunity and engagement in Milwaukee. Angela Lang, BLOC’s executive director, shared that a part of getting people to show up in these fights is “to make sure their voices are heard in a political system that wasn’t meant for us to participate in. It starts by organizing people in their neighborhoods, their friends and families, etc.” Lang continues on to describe a reimagining of the way people think about engaging in the processes around them. “We want people to think about what it means to live strong, healthy, thriving lives and demand that it actually happens and hold people accountable that our elected officials are investing in us and our communities.”

New Georgia Project (NGP): Founded in 2014 by Stacey Abrams, NGP is a civic engagement organizing fusing traditional organizing and base building with a civic tech spirit. Georgia is no stranger to voter suppression with the highest percentage of polling locations at the county level than any other state. Building beyond traditional voter registration work with a mixture of deep organizing, strategic storytelling, and cultural events, NGP has nurtured relationships across Georgia’s 159 counties. “One of the greatest threats to our democracy comes in the form of voter suppression,” says executive director Nse Ufot. “We see it every day—when the systems of democracy break down for folks, it has a ripple effect, causing massive disinvestment by folks in our community.” Ufot continues on to stress that this work extends beyond a single election cycle. “That’s one of the reasons The New Georgia Project stays at it 365 days a year, 7 days a week. Every new voter we register and engage with brings us one step closer to the Georgia we all deserve.” Year-round organizations like the New Georgia Project recognize that voting rights work literally touch every issue of concern facing voters and their communities today. 

Voice of the Experienced (VOTE): Based in New Orleans and led by Norris Henderson, VOTE is focused on civic engagement and policy reform centered in the work of formerly incarcerated people and their allies. VOTE sees civic engagement work as a part of a larger effort to reform the criminal justice system in Louisiana specifically and collaborative work on a national level. While many people may be familiar with the Amendment 1 effort in Florida to restore the right to vote to returning citizens (formerly incarcerated people), few may have heard of the fight for rights restoration in Louisiana. Partnering with the Advancement Project, VOTE filed a suit in 2016 challenging the removal of the right to vote for people on community supervision. This advocacy in part led to the passage of a State law that restored the right to vote to close to 40,000 formerly incarcerated persons. 

Voting Rights Legal Organizations

What is a good voter-suppression fight without a fierce legal team? Civil-rights lawyers and legal organizations have been a crucial partner in fighting voter suppression and disenfranchisement at multiple levels. Beyond the ACLU, organizations such as the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under the Law, Southern Center for Human Rights, Advancement Project, and Texas Civil Rights Project are leading the way on legal challenges to protect our rights and strike down intrusions accordingly. Legal partners are crucial to the success of our work from challenging poll closures and consolidations, to addressing unlawful voter purges and failures to adhere to existing laws and regulatory provisions.

As we celebrate National Voter Registration Day today it is good to remember that registering voters is simply one step in the fight to defend Democracy. We can all do our part to spread the message that voting rights are urgent. That means you. Volunteer to help register people to vote. Donate to any of the above organizations do the work. Vote for candidates in local, state, and national elections that take the issue of voting rights seriously and will fight to expand them. Share this piece, and our primer on Voter Suppression, to help inform your friends, co-workers, and family on the issue that affects all of our lives.

Bringing in new voters and previously disenfranchised voters is crucial to building winning coalitions across all levels of government. Entering a second election cycle without the full protection of the Voting Rights Acts requires we are more present in this fight than ever before. 

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