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Topics / Voter Participation

Election 2020: Know and Use Your (Voting) Rights!

Several Corporation grantees share their boots-on-the-ground approaches for ensuring that our elections are fair and equal 


The COVID-19 pandemic has changed much about how we live and work, including how many of us will make our voices heard on or around November 3. With the challenges of the pandemic in mind and the Corporation’s aim to remove voting barriers and encourage those least likely to vote to do so, Geri Mannion, director of the Corporation’s Strengthening U.S. Democracy program, invited several grantees to share their perspectives and help us navigate the opportunities and challenges of voting in 2020.

Myrna Pérez | Brennan Center for Justice
Equality for Equal Voting

Kristen Clarke | Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law
Local Elections Matter

Alexandria Harris | The Andrew Goodman Foundation
Empowering College Student Voters

María Teresa Kumar | Voto Latino
Closing the Latino Registration Gap

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner | MomsRising
Moms: Bring Your Kids

 


 

Equality Means Equal Voting Resources for All Communities

Myrna Pérez | Brennan Center for Justice

We know that voting by mail doesn’t work for everyone. It doesn’t work for people who don’t have reliable mail service or for people who have a culture of voting in person, live on Native American reservations, or don’t have the kinds of addresses that the Post Office recognizes. It doesn’t work for people with visual or physical impairments or for people with language needs who require the kind of assistance that you can get in person at a polling place.

Because there has been a lot of concern about the reliability of the Post Office, some people prefer to vote in person because they’re worried that voting by mail is not going to work for them. We have also seen a massive misinformation and disinformation campaign about the viability of voting by mail.

What we have learned is that we don’t have enough polling places. Wisconsin was an egregious example of what happens when voting locations are consolidated, where, for example, we saw polling places in Milwaukee reduced from 182 to 5. But the problem is not just in Wisconsin — and the shortage of voting locations compounds another, already existing problem, which is that people of color wait longer to vote and they wait in the longest lines. Earlier this year the Brennan Center issued the report Waiting to Vote, which describes racial disparities in Election Day experiences during the 2018 midterm elections.

Communities that tend to have the least number of resources per voter are those with rapidly changing demographics. In places that are becoming less white and poorer, we saw this diminishment of resources.

— Myrna Pérez, Brennan Center for Justice

Something else we uncovered: communities that tend to have the least number of resources per voter are those with rapidly changing demographics. In places that are becoming less white and poorer, we saw this diminishment of resources.

Because so many people will be voting in person this year, we need to make sure that our polling places are well equipped. We need to make sure that there are enough voting machines, enough backup paper ballots in case the voting machines go down, enough provisional ballots in case a massive purge is uncovered. We need to have backup poll books in case e-poll books go down. And we need to have an adequate number of poll workers who can effectively deal with the varied communities that will vote in person. Poll workers need to be well trained to help new voters, such as voters who are newly naturalized or who are first-time voters.

And we need to make sure that poll workers and the people going to polling places to vote are safe. In the recent report Guidelines for Healthy In-Person Voting, the Brennan Center laid out what our polling places need to look like to make sure that they do not contribute to the spread of the coronavirus.

Myrna Pérez, Director, Voting Rights and Elections | @myrna_perez_ | Brennan Center for Justice

 


 

Power Matters on a Deeply Local Level: Keep Your Eye on the Down-Ballot Races

Kristen Clarke | Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

Beyond the pandemic, this election season presents us with a unique moment — for we are also in the midst of an unprecedented movement for racial justice. It is perhaps the largest and most robust such movement that we’ve ever seen in our democracy. And for those of us who care about access to democracy, this year’s election presents an opportunity to focus less on the top of the ballot and more on what power means as you go down the ballot.

We need to talk about how voters can achieve reform through some of these down-ballot races. We need to remind voters that power matters at a deeply local level.

— Kristen Clarke, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

This is a moment to empower voters — especially first-time voters and the millions who are marching and protesting for racial justice — and to inform them that this moment is not just about the power of protests, but it is also about the power of the ballot. We need to talk about how voters can achieve reform through some of these down-ballot races. We need to remind voters that power matters at a deeply local level. District attorneys who make decisions about prosecuting police officers who use excessive force — they are elected. Mayors who select the leadership of police departments — they are elected. Sheriffs who run jails and make decisions on bail and solitary confinement or whether to detain nonviolent, low-level offenders — they are elected. In our democracy, all of these positions are filled by elected officials.

There is a real opportunity now to do some important voter education work: to really incentivize people, to get them excited to turn out and vote, to look beyond our obsession with the presidential election.

Additionally, I think that we need to be very concerned about what I’m calling “hostile litigation efforts,” which are playing out right now. In many places, well-funded entities are trying to deny people access to absentee ballots. They’re working to shut down the use of drop boxes. They’re trying to purge voter rolls. So part of what we’ve been doing at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, alongside mounting affirmative litigation, is that we are trying to stay on top of a lot of this hostile litigation that’s playing out across the country.

In partnership with hundreds of other organizations, we lead the Election Protection coalition, the nation’s largest nonpartisan voter protection program, which came about 20 years ago in the wake of Bush v. Gore. The program is anchored by a hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE. People can call and even text questions, complaints, or reports about breaks in the system. We have a network of over 23,000 legal volunteers who have been trained to support voters with any issues that arise as they exercise their right to vote.

We are also working with voters in some states, and particularly with Black voters, who are incredibly distrustful of the idea of dropping off their ballots in the U.S. mail or in a drop box. But particularly because of the pandemic, which has had a disproportionate impact on Black people and people of color, out of necessity they’ve had to figure out absentee voting. We’ve been working to really empower voters to make sure that they can vote safely and securely during this critical election season.

Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director | @KristenClarkeJD | Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

 


 

Making Young Voices and Young Votes a Powerful Force in Democracy

Alexandria Harris | The Andrew Goodman Foundation

The main issue facing students today: confusion. A lot of them are saying, “Well, where do I vote, where should I vote, what do I need to bring with me when I go to vote?” We’ve spent a lot of time clearing up those confusions and helping students come up with personal voting plans. We’re working on college campuses across the United States, and almost 2 million students in our network are mobilizing for the same outcomes.

Because of COVID, college students have largely been forced off of campus, so there is a big issue about whether they should — or can — vote by mail. What are the implications if they go back to school, and then there is another COVID outbreak and they have to leave campus again? How does that affect their ability to vote by mail? What about absentee voting? We’ve worked hard educating students to make sure that they know what their rights are and that they have a clear voting plan and strategy.

Students are also grappling with a general feeling of disillusionment. What’s happening in our country makes them feel like they’d rather take to the streets than vote. Does their vote even count? Will it matter? We work with many students of color, as well as with community college students and nontraditional learners. A lot of them experience gerrymandering at first hand. For example, some of our smaller campuses might have four different polling precincts — and that can create a lot of confusion.

We’re recruiting student polling workers aggressively because we think that they’ll really make a difference. Working with the American College Health Association, we’re doing it in a safe way. We are training poll workers to know their rights, as well as the rights of the people showing up at the polls to vote.

— Alexandria Harris, The Andrew Goodman Foundation

At the Andrew Goodman Foundation, our focus is on voter education. Many college homepages feature our one-stop portal, where students can get up-to-date information about voter deadlines. They can verify if they’re registered, and they can also register to vote if they’re not. But what I’m really excited about is students can also sign up to be a poll worker. We’re recruiting student polling workers aggressively because we think that they’ll really make a difference. Working with the American College Health Association, we’re doing it in a safe way. We are training poll workers to know their rights, as well as the rights of the people showing up at the polls to vote. Poll workers have a lot of power, so we need the right people in those positions.

One of our successes is in voter verification. We’ve been working on this in Wisconsin specifically. We contact people whose ballots have been denied, giving them the chance to correct their ballots. We want to keep people from being removed from the voting process. We’re currently figuring out how we can do voter verification at scale — that’s our real focus right now. And the other piece: we’ve got boots on the ground. We’re looking to really scale the successes that we’ve had in Wisconsin and other battleground states to show that students must be part of the process.

Alexandria Harris, Executive Director | @LexLeeJD | The Andrew Goodman Foundation

 


 

Mobilize and Inform: Closing the Latino Voter Registration Gap

María Teresa Kumar | Voto Latino

Voto Latino focuses specifically on young Latinos, because we recognize that they have an outsize influence within their community. This year there are 32 million Latinos who are eligible to vote, yet an estimated 14 million are still unregistered.  Therefore, the biggest opportunity for the Latino community has been to close that voter registration gap before Election Day on November 3. There is enthusiasm and there is engagement in the Latino community, especially among young people, who have incredible skin in the game.

Twenty-four percent of Latinos identify as black. So the issue of racial injustice, especially following the terrible murder of George Floyd in May of this year, is something that really hits home for Latinos, who live with the constant anxiety of being racially targeted.

— María Teresa Kumar, Voto Latino

There is also a real opportunity for us to forge alliances with the African American community. Twenty-four percent of Latinos identify as black. So the issue of racial injustice, especially following the terrible murder of George Floyd in May of this year, is something that really hits home for Latinos, who live with the constant anxiety of being racially targeted. And remember that Latinos are concentrated in six battleground states. Seventy percent of Latinos who are registering right now are under the age of 33 — and the majority of them are female.

One of the things we’ve recognized is that we need to have a conversation about low-propensity voters. In the Latino community, 49 percent of registered voters are never contacted by a campaign or a candidate. So this year we identified 2.2 million low-propensity voters who will be part of Voto Latino’s target mobilization. Each of them will receive one of three different touches: either an SMS digital ad or a postcard or an email. And the reason for this campaign? Sometimes people scratch their heads and say, “Well, why doesn’t anyone — from a political party or a campaign or anywhere — ever reach out to me?”

I have to remind people that Latinos don’t have a long voting history. And naturalized citizens make up a large sector of our community, and they also don’t have a long voting history. So sadly, we get overlooked, even though we really want to participate in the process. In Florida, in this election, for the very first time one out of 10 voters will be a naturalized citizen. Here’s a message that really piques people’s interest in Florida: tell them that the president has created a denaturalization task force. If you’re a naturalized U.S. citizen, that doesn’t sit so well.

So we believe that our work is to mobilize and to inform. We have now identified 150 influencers. They are business leaders. And they are folks who have only 3,000 or 4,000 followers on Instagram, but who are influential in, for example, El Paso and the Rio Grande Valley. We recognize that we have to get into the nooks and crannies of people’s feeds, because the Latino community is so varied. We rely on and share information that has been vetted by friends and family, not by just a single media source.

Since the pandemic started, we have trained over 5,700 volunteers and we’ve done over 800,000 peer-to-peer conversations over SMS. We’ve talked to people about COVID, about voting by mail and making sure that their ballots are ready, about voting in the primary — all the way down the line. Who are we trying to reach out to? Everyone. Because the majority of Latino voters are very attuned to what’s at stake. Our focus right now is to make sure that we’re registering voters, that we’re informing them, and that we’re getting them to the polls. It’s very, very simple.

María Teresa Kumar, President and CEO | @MariaTeresa1 | Voto Latino

 


 

Getting Out the “Mom Vote”

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising

Eighty-six percent of women in America do become moms, and moms are a powerful force. There were about 75 million registered mom voters in the U.S. What does that mean when we look at the key states? What does that mean when we look not just at the overall popular vote, but also at the Electoral College?

When we drill down, we can see that in 2016, in the states where the Electoral College was lost, there were about 1.5 million votes that made up the difference. And if you look at low-frequency voters, people who vote between zero and 30 percent of the time, we see that there are 7.4 million low-frequency voters who are moms of color or single white moms. And these are the women our program is working to lift up. We are breaking down barriers to voting for those moms. We are trusted messengers doing mom-to-mom communication with the core message throughout of be a voter, raise a voter.

We offer ways to help people make a plan to vote that includes the whole family. Whether you’re voting at home on your kitchen table or you’re deciding to vote in person or by a drop box, MomsRising … shares activities for kids of all ages to do alongside their parents so that parents don’t have to get childcare in order to vote.

— Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, MomsRising

One key barrier we’re breaking down is an idea many moms have: that you have to get a babysitter to vote. So we’re offering to help people make a plan to vote. And — whether you’re voting at home on your kitchen table or you’re deciding to vote in person or by a drop box — that voting plan includes their child.

We also have an ongoing voter registration program, which includes a check your vote program. With this initiative we make sure people know that voting by mail is an option for them — if it’s an option in their state — and we show them how to go about it. We have a spectacular mom-t0-mom postcard program, we’ve reaching over 3 million low-frequency voter moms, and we have moms volunteering in numbers we never could have imagined. It is really inspiring. And then there is direct mail. We have commissioned exciting art by moms for MomsRising, so our mail does not look like anything you would get from a political campaign.

Last, but not least, we have our Beacon of Hope program. We overlayed our voter file over the precincts in our target states and found the precincts that had the highest density of low-frequency voters. Then we asked volunteers to basically adopt those precincts to help get out the vote — and we had record-breaking numbers of volunteers coming forward. We’re also running our programs in Spanish, including LatinxVotan and MámasConPoder, the Spanish-language community of MomsRising.

Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, Executive Director, CEO, and Cofounder | @rowefinkbeiner | MomsRising



Top: Several voters wearing masks line up during the first day of early voting in Monroe County, Indiana, on October 6, 2020. (Credit: Jeremy Hogan/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)