7 Small Things You Can Do to Fight Voter Suppression
From spreading information to working the polls, you can play in hand in making sure more people have access to vote this November.
If you're frustrated about a lack of voter turnout in elections (nearly half of Americans eligible to vote never do, Politico reports), you shouldn't simply be asking, why aren't people voting?, but instead, what barriers are holding them back? Voter suppression is an issue that's existed as long as voting has, and it's a serious threat to our democracy. Tappan Vickery, director of voter engagement at HeadCount, broadly defines voter suppression as, "anytime we systemically create barriers that make it harder for people to have access to the polls or make it more confusing for what they need to do to access the polls."
Basically, you shouldn't need a degree in political science to figure out how voting works and you shouldn't have to jump through a bunch of administrative hoops just to cast your ballot. In many places, however, that's not far from the reality of the situation. Across the country, various rules and regulations have been put in place that make it harder for Americans—particularly Black people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities—to vote.
Though people often cite the ratification of the 19th Amendment (which prohibits the government from using sex as a criterion for voting rights) as the moment when equal voting access was achieved, that's unfortunately not the case. Long after that 1920 Constitutional landmark, state laws like poll taxes and literacy tests blocked many Black Americans from exercising their right to vote and kept them disenfranchised. Today, a long list of obstacles—like strict voter ID laws, gerrymandering, felony disenfranchisement, limited polling locations, and an overall lack of access to voting information—do the same, affecting Black Americans and other marginalized communities the most.
Another form of voter suppression? The promotion of the idea that your vote doesn't matter. In a time where about 180,000 Americans have died due to coronavirus (COVID-19) and Black people continue to be killed by police in disproportionately high numbers, distrust in the system is understandable and warranted. As Shaniqua McClendon, the political director at Crooked Media says, however, "Your vote only matters if you actually vote," explaining that elected officials pay the most attention to those who vote.
"It's really hard to make a politician care about someone who doesn't participate in the process," she adds. "Is that fair? Is that the way it should be? Absolutely not, but it is the way it is."
So, one of the first ways to fight voter suppression is, of course, to vote—and to vote for those who have invested interests in breaking down barriers to voting access. Crystal Carson, communications director for When We All Vote, advocates for a "put your mask on first" kind of voting plan. Once you've laid what you need to do for the upcoming election—whether that involves checking your registration, requesting an absentee ballot, or finding your polling place—then you can look toward ways to help others do the same. But if you're looking for more ways to fight voter suppression, read below.
Ways to Fight Voter Suppression
1 Spread information.
Since information about voting can often be hard to find or understand, anything you can do to inform other eligible voters about their options can help clear the path to the ballots. This could involve sharing posts on social media that include important deadlines, sharing polling locations, or providing information about who's on the ballot, or simply directing someone to sites like WhenWeAllVote.org, VoteSaveAmerica.com, and HeadCount, that provide user-friendly voter resources.
Sharing information is especially important if you want to see more young people voting in the upcoming election. Millennials have officially surpassed baby boomers ineligible voter population, but older people still turn out at higher rates than younger generations—and that can, in part, be attributed to a lack of information and experience in young voters.
2 Take the census.
The census is a lot more than just a headcount. As explained in Forbes, "The census is the basis for political representation because the population count determines how congressional seats are allocated among the states and how legislative district lines are drawn." Census data also determines how funds are allocated to different states and communities. So, filling out the census, and encouraging others to do so also, makes a direct difference in how much political representation and funding your community receives.
Head here to take the 2020 census, which is open for self-response throughout September 30th.
3 Sign up to be a poll worker.
One of the many reasons that polling locations close is because they don't have enough poll workers to work them. If you're healthy and able to do so, signing up to be a poll worker is a great way to make sure more polling locations are able to stay open in your community, and as a result, more people have access to vote.
According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of U.S. poll workers are over the age of 60. And with the coronavirus posing a higher risk to older populations, many of those poll workers will be taken out of the equation, increasing the need for more young people to step up and take on the job.
4 Vote with your friends.
Studies have shown that people are more likely to vote if they vote with friends. So, when creating your voting plan for this November, and every future election, bring your friends in on the conversation. Together, you can help each other through the voting process, learn information about candidates, and deconstruct the shame that people often have around voting confusion.
5 Give employees time to vote.
In the 2014 midterms, 35% of eligible voters who didn't vote, didn't do so because of schedule conflicts with work or school. While some states are starting to make election day a federal holiday, long wait lines and polling location hours can still be a barrier for those who are unable to leave work. If you're in a position to provide employees with time off to go vote, this is a great way to help ensure your colleagues are able to cast their ballots and have your vote heard. Plus, within your workplace, "it creates a culture around supporting democracy," Vickery says.
6 Offer rides to the polls.
If you're able to do so, offering free rides to the polls on election day can be a great way to ensure more people in your community are able to cast their ballots. This can be especially beneficial in communities where polling places are few and far apart, as the distance from polls can be a significant barrier preventing people from voting.