Tag Archives: #votersuppression

Is Your Right To Vote Safe? No, Says Voting Rights Advocate Elizabeth Hira

On June 22, the voting rights bill For the People Act (S1) (also known as H.R.1),  met a solid Republican wall of opposition in the Senate even though the bill passed in the House with bipartisan support in March. Republicans voted against starting debate on it.

After the bill failed to advance in the Senate, President Biden condemned the suppression of a bill to end voter suppression, stating that the Act defended “the rights of voters…and stood against the ongoing assault of voter suppression that represents a Jim Crow era in the 21st Century.”

Earlier in the month, voting rights advocates at a June 11 briefing hosted by Ethnic Media Services were optimistic about the prospects of legislation aimed at blocking voter suppression in many states.

Elizabeth Hira, Spitzer Fellow and Policy Counsel, Brennan Center’s Democracy Program described the election reform bill as “an opportunity to fundamentally transform American democracy by changing who gets a seat at the table.”

What’s at stake is reduced voting options at the local level that disenfranchise vulnerable populations.

In Texas for example, the Senate approved an election law – SB7 – that could make voting more difficult for people of color and people for whom English is a second language. Mimi Marziani, President of the Texas Civil Rights Project explained that SB7 prohibits local election officials distributing vote by mail applications. This would impact the right to vote for people with disabilities, college students or people who are incarcerated. Instead, the bill could empower partisan poll workers who are known for intimidating people of color and make it easier for politicians alleging fraud to have elections overturned with very limited proof.

“Invidious discrimination, often race-based is very much alive in American law,” added Hira, citing the example of voter ID laws in North Dakota which require proof of residential addresses. It’s a requirement that’s impossible for Native American communities to provide as the state does not assign them home addresses.

In California, CalMatters reports that schools do nothing or next to nothing to help eligible 18 year old students register to vote, because the state legislature has voted year after year to suspend funding for local initiatives. According to a USC study by the Center for Inclusive Democracy in February 2021, only 11% of 16- and 17-year-olds in California are preregistered to vote.

Both federal bills – For the People Act (S1), and the John L. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, under consideration in the US Senate, sought to protect the rights of voters by pushing back the ongoing assault of voter suppression.

The S1 “fundamentally asks the question, what would it look like to have an inclusive American democracy,” said Hira.

The For the People Act aims to recognize and rectify historical inequities in voting rights by expanding access to the ballot box, changing campaign finance laws, and making infrastructural changes.

S1 includes automatic voter registration and same day voter registration which will benefit communities of color and young people from one of the most demographically diverse generations in America today. It also includes online voter registration for ten states which don’t have operational systems, and supplies two weeks of early voting with hours before and after, to ensure that people get to cast their ballots  – especially women and lower wage workers who do not have the flexibility to stand in line for hours at the polls on election day.

In order to reduce the influence of big money in politics, the bill would establish a baseline minimal standard for campaign finance reform. It restores the vote for about 4 million Americans who are out of jail or prison and living in their community. Other provisions include an increase in penalties for intimidation at the polls, as well as an endorsement for DC statehood and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.

Ensuring that people can elect leaders to represent them through fair redistricting is a fundamental tenet of S1. It bans partisan gerrymandering that lets politicians draw districts to choose their voters, and instead, opens the process to allow the public to choose their leaders. It also prohibits discriminatory voter purges and provides grants for election security and election administration so that states can get paper ballots and “voters can know their votes are cast and counted,” said Hira.

Fortifying our democracy by instituting anti-corruption measures and strengthening ethics rules for public servants is integral to the For The People Act, which provides a judicial code of ethics for the Supreme Court which is the only court in America that does not abide by one, and will require the President and Vice President to abide by conflict of interest laws and submit the last ten years of their taxes.

In conjunction with the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, the S1 advances the work of the Civil Rights movement to achieve racial justice, but it also involves  intersectional equities – ensuring voting rights for women who change their names after marriage or divorce, and for transgender people without documents that match their gender identity.

After the bill failed to advance in the Senate, President Biden issued a statement that he would be ramping up efforts to overcome suppression of a bill to end voter suppression, declaring, “This fight is far from over—far from over.”


Meera Kymal is the Contributing Editor at India Currents.


Photo by visuals on Unsplash

Photo by Jennifer Griffin on Unsplash

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

 

 

Have Our Votes Ever Reflected Our Population?

Humans are pattern-seeking – something that doesn’t agree with the nature of reality since it is inherently uncertain and unpredictable. Anything can happen. There is a perfect blend of beauty and terror in the ambiguity, but it’s the reality we live with and keep tucked away in the backs of our minds every day. 

This year has been one of pure uncertainty (in case the advertisements haven’t told you that “these are uncertain times” enough). We joke that 2020 can’t get any worse, so go ahead and add another disaster to the pile forming in the corner in the same way national debt does. It’s not normal to be as numb as we are to the concept of uncertainty. Global pandemic? Economic recession? Protestors getting shot down? The election of a decade? At this point, I could’ve added alien invasion to the list and no one would be phased. 

In the year 2020, the only certainty is uncertainty itself. This year has been a breath we’ve been waiting to let out. When will it be okay to breathe? When will it be okay to feel like the crisis is over? When will we be okay? 

Until then, we hold our breaths, twiddle our thumbs, and try not to hope too much in fear that something worse will roll along in response.

And here it is: this year (of all years this could possibly happen) incidentally is the year of the general elections.

Red vs. Blue

Elephant vs. Donkey

Democrat vs. Republican

We make decisions on who makes decisions for us. One of the cornerstones of democracy is free and fair elections. Take your ballot and drop it in the box as all votes are counted accurately

But not this year. No. Like everything else this year, voting is a bit different. Mail-in ballot voting. The concept itself is not all that foreign and has worked on a smaller scale in the past. But this year (to use an overused phrase) there seems to be some controversy surrounding this. Mail-in ballots are voter fraud. We might not know the results until later. The post office sucks. You’ve heard almost everything on this by now if you’ve tuned into even half an hour of news a week.

It’s hilarious. I’m laughing right now as I write this because of the utter hypocrisy of it. I get it, the post system isn’t always perfect, but neither is our political system right now, and it seems the same people criticizing mail-in ballots seem to be glossing over the faults of our government. We keep talking about how fair it is to have mail-in ballots. Can we trust it? What if everyone’s votes don’t count? It’s not an accurate representation. It won’t make everyone’s voice heard.

Has it ever counted? Think about it. No really. Think. Way back in ye olden days, women couldn’t vote, people of color couldn’t vote, the impoverished found it difficult to vote. Was that accurate? The voice of the people was the voice of straight, rich, property-owning, white males. 

Oh, but we’ve evolved from that.

Have we though?

Remember: just because it’s legal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. That’s the equivalent of saying that starting to think about giving rights to the LGBTQ community can fix homophobia. That’s not how that works. 

We’re not that much better today than we were centuries ago in terms of free and fair elections. Why? Voter suppression exists. Who are we suppressing?

Who are the people who are suppressed in all aspects of the American government? Minority groups.

Type of voter suppression at a polling station in New Hampshire, 2013. (Image by: Mark Buckawicki)

This administration is known to suppress minority groups. Throwing them in cages, threatening deportation, building a literal border wall, shooting protesters, and just sowing hatred. Not to mention how difficult it is to even be able to vote if you have a criminal record. The Shelby County vs. Holder trial didn’t help either. Democracy lost 5-4. 

There are tactics and chess pieces being moved to silence people that we aren’t even aware of. 

The worst kind of uncertainty is the uncertainty in whether or not your voice is heard. Am I represented? Am I equal? Am I cared for? This type of uncertainty is almost existential in nature and deserves a definitive yes. These shouldn’t be things we have to worry about, but such is the state of reality at this point. 

There is a way to change this. Vote. You’ve probably already heard this one, but I’m serious: if you can, then do it. I’m not saying vote for any particular candidate but just vote. The best way to predict the future and eliminate as much of this malicious uncertainty as possible is to vote.

Vote. You can be certain in your own opinions, actions, and decisions. Once you master that, the rest shouldn’t bother you much. You have to voice your opinions and speak out against injustice. It’s hard to pinpoint definitively what is wrong and right, but the important thing is to try. It’s all anyone can do. I can say with complete certainty that trying has more of a chance of succeeding than not trying at all.


Reema Kalidindi is a junior at Lower Bucks High School and a lead volunteer at Bharatiya Temple’s school for children. 

Fool Me One Election, Shame On You…

Before Election Day

Anooshka Kumar’s grandparents voted for the first time in the US, this past week, at the age of 76 and 81. Anooshka sat them down and went through each proposition on California’s Santa Clara County 2020 Ballot – not an easy feat. 

Her civic duty extended beyond just her own participation. She started an intergenerational dialogue and the outcome was pleasantly surprising. “They were excited to vote! They now understand how important this particular election is and want to bring in a new leader that actually cares for communities that have been marginalized and discriminated against,” Kumar pridefully said. 

Anooshka’s hopes for a better country rely on the democratic process of voting. In order for the future that she envisions to be a reality, she educates herself and the people around her on candidates, their policies, and the propositions on the ballot. “I’m nervous and excited,” expressed Kumar, looking optimistically at the potential future, “We filled in our ballots at home then dropped them off at a ballot dropbox. We want to make sure our votes are counted in time!” 

NPR had a segment of airtime addressing people’s anxieties about the election…which inevitably led to more anxiety about the election. Anooshka and her grandparents want their votes to be meaningful, but will they?

Not everyone feels as optimistic…

Diego Osorio, a Mountain View resident pressed, “I wanted to go vote in person because I personally believe that Trump will try to steal the election anyway he can. Recent reports are claiming that he may attempt to throw away mail-in ballots. I want to set an example. If you can vote in person…go!” As a person of color, Osorio is concerned about voter suppression.

At the Ethnic Media Services briefing on October 27th, Dr. Nathaniel Persily, Professor of Law at Stanford and a leading expert on the electoral process, placates anxiety with information.

A quick survey of the India Currents’ readership reflects that our readers were less likely to use the Vote By Mail option. Of the 150 -160 million expected to vote this year, 70- 80 million of them will Vote By Mail. Vote By Mail will be twice what it was four years ago, with 82 million absentee ballot requests. 

“We know the number of [mail in ballots] will be in the tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands but that would not be unique to this election. The pace of mail balloting and the actual time it will take once [a vote] mails their ballot will be the same as it was in 2016,” assures Dr. Persily and continues, “You can take that as good news or bad news…No one was reporting on the hundreds of thousands of mail-in ballots that were late in the last election.” Local postal officials feel like they have it under control.

So close to the election, discouraged voters should not be afraid to vote in person. This year there are larger voter centers but long lines are to be expected. The length of the line at a polling place is not directly linked to the length of wait time, since social distanced practices will be observed for safety.

How to View the Election Day

When disseminating information, check to see if the problem is isolated or systemic to a locality. For example, there may be absent poll workers with COVID-related illness, inadequately trained poll workers, or voter intimidation at a specific center but the problem is not systemic unless you see statistically significant rises of such events in a particular locality. 

“Get rid of the notion of precinct reporting,” advocated Dr. Persily. Absentee ballot collection precincts may or may not be part of the number of precincts reporting and can skew results. The biggest faux pas would be to declare a winner or use predictive results as the final result on the day of the election. 

Patience is key. 

“What makes a count official is the certification but the Chief Election Officer in a state,” emphasized Dr. Persily. Most states will not have an official ballot count on election day but check states like Florida that should have nearly all votes counted on election day. 

Interested in data and research and want to share that with your network? Always explain the share of vote counted over the expected vote, explain geographically where votes are coming from, and report results in fully reported jurisdictions as a comparison to the 2016 results in the same jurisdiction. Such modeling has already been done by Citizen Data and can be used for accurate insight into the election results.

After Polls Close

Prepare for unwarranted claims of victory by candidates and an onslaught of disinformation relating to voter fraud, destroyed votes, and malpractice.

However, to use our President’s words, “Stand back and stand by…” 

Instead, inform your network on the security of the vote-counting process.

Even though we are all anxious, Dr. Persily has confidence in the system. Anooshka, her grandparents, and Diego will all have their votes counted in the 2020 Election.


Srishti Prabha is the Assistant Editor at India Currents and has worked in low income/affordable housing as an advocate for children, women, and people of color. She is passionate about diversifying spaces, preserving culture, and removing barriers to equity.

Featured Image by League of Women Voters of California LWVC from USA and license here.