by Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent @StacyBrownMedia
“We have to be concerned that . . . there are tactics, strategies, and efforts afloat in too many of these states to suppress the vote and to make people fearful of voting such was the case 50 years ago. We had to overcome those tactics of voter suppression, and we have to do it now.”
– NNPA President Dr. Ben Chavis
Since the onset of COVID-19, voter registration in the United States has decreased by a whopping 90 percent.
Additionally, more than 18 million voters have been purged off the rolls since 2016, and, with the all-important 2020 General Election on the horizon, activists, and others, are working to ensure the registration of millions.
On Monday, May 4, The Transformative Justice Coalition (TJC) and the Voting Rights Alliance held a tele-townhall titled, “The Fight for the Vote 2020: Our March to the Ballot Box.”
Broadcast over Facebook Live, the presentation featured panelists who agreed that the election process would be severely hindered unless strategies are developed for more robust voter outreach and empowerment.
Panelists included National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) President and CEO, Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr., TJC Founder, and President Barbara R. Arnwine, Esq., Moms Rising CEO Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, and Vote.org CEO Andrea Hailey.
“A person without a vote is a person without protection,” stated Attorney Daryl D. Jones, TJC’s Board Chair, who served as a moderator.
The panelists tackled robust voter outreach and registration strategies, media, and specialized outreach to purged voters and those on inactive lists, creating voter contact systems, onerous absentee ballot requirements, and voter identification.
“The struggle for voting rights continues in America even amidst the pandemic the struggle for the most fundamental right, the right to vote, continues,” Chavis stated.
“We have to be concerned that while we sit here tonight, there are tactics, strategies, and efforts afloat in too many of these states to suppress the vote and to make people fearful of voting, such was the case 50 years ago,” Chavis continued.
“We had to overcome those tactics of voter suppression, and we have to do it now,” he added.
No excuses, and no barriers should be in place for mail-in ballots, Arnwine stated.
“Vote by mail works for White people, but it doesn’t for a whole lot of people of color,” she stated, adding that there were 1.3 million ballots mailed in Wisconsin, but 197,000 were not counted for various reasons, including the lack of postage stamps.
“In some of these states, they have this evil match law where if they don’t think your signature matches, they will not count your vote,” Arnwine said. “We have to be clear, you have to not only have vote-by-mail options and absentee balloting, but you have to have on-site, distances, and personal protective equipment for workers and voters.”
Rowe-Finkbeiner added that Moms Rising has more than 1 million members spread out across all 50 states.
She said mothers are high targets of voter suppression.
“You change your name, and you get pushed off the rolls,” Rowe-Finkbeiner stated. “You have to check your status and make sure you have at least five friends ready to vote. The situation has never been more urgent.”
Hailey stated that Vote.org had team members working as late as 3 a.m. during recent primaries to monitor last-minute rule changes that affected voters.
“Confusion itself can be a voter suppression tactic, so we’re trying to cut through all of that noise to make sure there’s no confusion,” Hailey noted.
“We see it as our job to monitor this and to work with state and local officials to have an understanding of what the voter experience is going to look like. Every state should have no-excuse absentee voting. You should be able to have at least 20 days of early voting so that you don’t have these long lines like you saw in Wisconsin. People should not have to choose between their health and their ability to cast a ballot,” Hailey said
The Louisiana Legislature recently expanded absentee ballot voting. The emergency elections plan submitted by Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin passed in late April with a 31-8 Senate vote and 62-39 vote in the House.
According to the new Emergency Voting Plan — in addition to already established absentee ballot qualifications, voters can now request an absentee ballot if they:
• Are at a higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19 because of certain medical conditions
• Are subject to a quarantine or isolation order
• Are advised by a health provider to self-quarantine
• Are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 and seeking medical confirmation
• Are caring for someone who is quarantined or isolated because of the disease.
For now, the plan applies to the July 11 presidential primary and the August 15 municipal election. In addition to increasing the number of people able to vote by absentee ballot, the plan also allows the secretary of state to change precinct locations, relocate polling places, expand in-person early voting from seven days to 13 days.
While voting rights advocates applaud the new elections plan, many also say it still does not go far enough. To be sure, the emergency plan lawmakers approved is not nearly as robust as one that failed to make it out of the Senate & Governmental Affairs Committee early this month. That plan was far more comprehensive and would have widely expanded absentee voting eligibility with few restrictions.
“This is great news and an amazing step in the right direction to ensuring everyone can safely cast their vote — but in a time like this, we should be expanding absentee voting to everyone,” wrote Action New Orleans in a statement released after the plan’s passage. “No one should have to choose between exercising their right to vote and protecting their health, and we hope that anyone — doctors, nurses, first responders, everyone — may have access to vote by mail and further ensure their health and safety.”