Both the Republican and Democratic leadership – state and federal – have not done enough to secure the votes of millions of Americans and that will have a great impact on the general election next month. Illegal suppression of votes has become more blatant and racist than ever, particularly in targeting Black communities like our home of central Harlem, NYC. We have to fight back.
First let’s be clear about the nature of current voter suppression and oppression. Due to COVID-19, many voters in the U.S. will be voting by mail in 2020 but the current administration is illegally suppressing votes by making vote-by-mail more difficult causing significant delays and sowing confusion. The cuts and defunding of the United States Postal Service via the Trump administration are only the most recent example. The people most impacted by this and other means of voter suppression, such as the voter roll purging that took place in 2018 in Georgia causing Stacey Abrams to lose her election, are often underrepresented communities including, but not limited to: Black Americans, those that recently obtained citizenship, those without a physical address, those with disabilities, those whose primary language is not English, those without a state-issued ID, students attending school away from their home state, and those with a former felony conviction.
Across the nation, one-third of voters who have a disability report difficulty voting and only 40% of polling places fully accommodate people with disabilities. The ACLU reports that New Hampshire is trying to block residents with out-of-state drivers’ licenses from voting despite six in ten college students coming from out-of-state. This greatly impacts young people’s ability to vote.
There are also a variety of state felony disenfranchisement laws, varying from state to state, that prevent approximately 5.85 million Americans with felony (and in several states misdemeanor) convictions from voting. The only two states that allow everyone the right to vote regardless of incarceration or felony convictions are Vermont and Maine. New York currently does not allow people in prison or on parole the right to vote.
In response to this abuse of democracy, we are learning how to fight voter suppression in a number of ways. Take note and take action!
- Confirm Your Voter Registration
If you are a registered voter, it is important to check your registration before you plan to vote in your local and national elections – both general and primary. According to the National Organization for Women, 16 million people were removed from U.S. voter rolls between 2014 and 2016. Approximately 200,000 people were purged from voter rolls in Brooklyn alone, preventing them from voting in the 2016 primary election. You can check your voter registration status here.
- Become a Poll Worker
New York, along with many other states, is looking for poll workers. Due to COVID-19, New York is experiencing a critical shortage of poll workers. Historically, 55% of all New York’s poll workers are over the age of 60, making them especially vulnerable to the pandemic. This has resulted in a significant need for poll workers who are willing and able to assist with the administration of in-person voting during the November 3 general election. Apply to be a poll worker here.
- Contact Your Representatives
Tell your senators to pass the VRAA (Voting Rights Advancement Act), which would reinstate critical protections against voter suppression left behind after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013. According to the HRC (Human Rights Campaign), the VRAA would also strengthen voting rights by expanding the government’s ability to respond to voting discrimination.
In New York, state representatives are working on a number of updates to our current voter registration process including automatic and same-day voter registration and a “no excuse” absentee ballot meaning a voter does not have to meet any criteria to receive an absentee ballot. Currently, New York requires voters to register at least 25 days before an election.
Voting breakthroughs in New York
New York has recently introduced a number of reforms that will help fight voter suppression.
- Early voting starts ten (10) days before an election in a limited number of polling locations.
- Same day federal and state primaries simplify the process.
- 16 & 17 year olds can pre-register.
- When you move within the state, your registration is transferred to your new address automatically.