CRISIS SPEAKING TRUTH TO POWER
OCTOBER 2020/US $4.00/CANADA $5.00
VOTING SUPPLEMENT VOL 127/3
“The vote is precious. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democratic society, and we must use it.” Rep. John Lewis
04 | A New Urgency
26 | Galvanizing Young Voters
The stakes have never been higher. On National Black Voter Day, the NAACP held a virtual panel at its 111th annual convention to discuss mobilizing voters and legal efforts protecting African Americans’ right to vote. By Maria Morales
More than any other group, young voters will face the consequences of the most pressing issues facing our country. Yet some think their vote doesn’t matter. The NAACP Youth and College Division is among the groups working to counter that narrative. By Melanie Eversley
14 | No ID, No Vote Obtaining an ID, such as a driver’s license, may be more difficult than you think. Increasingly, voters around the country are being disenfranchised for not having one. By Cynthia Yeldell Anderson
18 | Turning Up to Turn Out 08 | Women Count Groups including Sisters Lead Sisters Vote and Voto Latino make the case that female turnout can have a major impact and work to ensure that women flex their political muscle in this election. By Shannon Gibney
10 | They Won’t “Shut Up and Dribble” Star athletes in the NBA and WNBA are leaders on and off the court. They’re using their platforms to see their arenas transformed into voting stations on Election Day. By David Steele
Door-to-door organizing is out in the age of COVID, but the NAACP and other groups including the Black Voters Matter Fund are finding creative ways to educate, counter voter apathy and help ensure African Americans show up to vote. By Kathryn DeShields
32 | Cyber Threats Target Black Voters Foreign interference was on full display in the 2016 presidential election and is on the rise again. African-American voters face new challenges in avoiding misinformation. By Nedra Rhone
20 | B ehind Bars but Free to Vote
34 | All In to Win
Some of the nation’s nearly 740,000 inmates are eligible to vote but face barriers to exercising that right. We talk to voting advocates who work to combat jail-based disenfranchisement. By La Risa R. Lynch
A new documentary educates viewers on the history of Black voting rights, traces the voter suppression that cost Stacey Abrams the gubernatorial election in Georgia and explains how to keep elections free and fair. By Diedre Johnson
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Special Voting Supplement 2020 1
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Our Votes Matter 2020 has been quite a year. I shouldn’t have to list the numerous reasons why it’s important to vote. You know why. From the lack of response to the coronavirus pandemic, in which thousands have died, lost jobs, homes and family members, to the tragic deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor, those should be reasons enough to go to the polls in November. Every four years, the politicians tell us that this is the most important election of our lives. Four years ago, we didn’t listen. Today we have a majority conservative Supreme Court that may end reproductive rights and end the Affordable Care Act. The rich are getting richer because of tax reform that benefited the wealthy, and this pandemic has laid bare the inequities in education, health and employment. “We are nonpartisan, but we are not blind,” says Jamal Watkins, vice president of civic engagement at the NAACP. “We are encouraging our members to vote their values. It’s our communities that are going to make a difference.” The NAACP is working mightily to get folks to the polls. The nation’s oldest and largest civil rights organization is determined to increase Black voter turnout during this election. Its get out the vote campaign, “Black Voices Change Lives,” includes more than 190,000 volunteers — mostly high propensity voters — who are charged with reaching out to their neighbors who are on the fence about participating in this election. The NAACP is focusing on 12 states in particular — Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Michigan, North Carolina, Nevada, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia and Wisconsin. “All states matter, where ever you live, your votes count and your votes matter,” says Watkins. “However, in these states if the Black vote doesn’t turn out, then this election could get awry.” The NAACP’s get-out-the-vote strategy includes an election text to 15 million people, three million phone calls and no-contact canvassing. The NAACP is also working with other organizations to protect the vote, including a team of lawyers from Common Cause, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. The team of lawyers will be on the lookout for voter suppression tactics. For example, many voters are already receiving derogatory text messages and threatening emails. And if anyone runs into any problems at the polls, the NAACP has a plan for that. The organization has enlisted volunteer election defenders to monitor targeted polls and report the issues they see at polling locations. “The No. 1 tool to overcome voter suppression is to overwhelm the system with our votes,” says NAACP President and CEO Derrick Johnson. “It’s our role to ensure that democracy works.” Pledge to vote, plan to vote and prepare to vote. Our democracy is at stake. Our lives depend on it. FOLLOW US ON INSTAGRAM, FACEBOOK AND TWITTER
Yugus; ROBYN BECK / Contributor Bettmann / Contributor; Bettmann
SPECIAL VOTING SUPPLEMENT 2020
Our Lives Depend On It
Special Voting Supplement 2020 3
B y M ar i a Mo r a l e s
Combating misinformation and securing access to the polls were the focus of a series of virtual panels on voting rights at the 111th annual NAACP Convention on Sept. 18, which was National Black Voter Day. The nation’s leading civil rights lawyers and voting activists discussed both organic and manmade challenges to the voting process in what is being called the most logistically complicated general election since the Civil War. “We didn’t wake up in this posture,” said NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “There is a long history that brought us here and there’s an intentionality to exclude our voices in this democracy, and it’s systemic.” The series began with a two-part panel discussion, Where Do We Go From Here?, in which attorneys from the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund (LDF), the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Advancement Project joined the NAACP to discuss the legal fight to provide fair, nondiscriminatory voting access
Voter Mobilization Focus of 111th NAACP Convention
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for all citizens – from Black and brown communities to those with disabilities, citizens who speak English as a second language, and returning citizens. The global coronavirus pandemic has disproportionately affected Black and brown Americans, rocked the national economy and has many concerned about safety when voting in person. More voters are considering absentee and mail-in balloting. But misinformation regarding the
voting process has been blasted on social media, as well as from the Trump administration and from President Trump himself. This misinformation, along with Russian interference targeting the African American community and damaging blows to the U.S. postal system have become modern suppression tactics to deter citizens from voting, all what Gilda Daniels, director of litigation for the Advancement Project, called “weapons of mass distraction.” Several civil rights organizations are stepping up efforts to challenge legal roadblocks set up by states and local jurisdictions, and to empower voters by providing accurate information state by state especially regarding
There’s a new sense of urgency for this upcoming general election in which not only will voting have a significant impact on the presidential election but at the local level as well.
absentee and mail-in balloting. The LDF has filed lawsuits to relax restrictions on absentee voting in several states including South Carolina, Louisiana and Alabama, which has the most restrictive absentee voting rules in the country, according to Sherrilyn Ifill, executive director of the LDF. The organization was victorious at the trial level but the U.S. Supreme Court has declined to hear the cases, Ifill said. In addition, more than 300 COVID-related voteraccess cases have been filed nationally since the pandemic began during the height of the primary election season in March, according to Daniels. During the height of the pandemic, when essential workers had to choose between work and health, parents had to navigate their children’s education because of school closings and our elderly family members sat alone in nursing homes, a number of injustices occurred this summer including the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Ahmaud Arbery outside Brunswick, Ga., and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Ky. And in August, Jacob Blake was shot in the back seven times by a police officer in Kenosha, Wis. These incidents sparked an international outcry and out of it came a new movement for Black lives. The diversity of voices speaking out for change, from celebrities such as LeBron James and John Legend, to members of the LGBTQ community, whites and other racial groups, and the depth of the conversations among these voices, has been welcomed by the civil rights community, the activists said. There’s a new sense of urgency for this upcoming general election in which not only will voting have a significant impact on the presidential election but at the local level as well where district attorneys, judges and sheriffs decide what happens in the criminal justice system. Jamal Watkins, vice president of civic engagement for the NAACP, encouraged people to communicate with others in their community about the issues that impact them and find candidates who are speaking to those issues. Black voter participation in the 2016 presidential election was the lowest since the 2000 election, although a record number of people overall voted. “The 2016 election showed us that we can’t wait for someone to come and save us,” Watkins said. “We have to speak up and save ourselves.” Watkins announced a new NAACP campaign, Black Voices Change Lives, to boost turnout among infrequent Black voters in critical battleground states where data from previous elections shows the Black vote is the determining factor in the outcome of the election. The website also provides information on how to request a ballot, voting laws by area, and allows
visitors to make a voting plan with automatic reminders. The NAACP’s strategy also includes no contact canvassing and election protection. Voting is the first step, he said, but after the elections, we must hold our elected officials accountable and continue to advocate for change. Watkins and other activists hope the pattern of rising and waning enthusiasm with each election cycle will give way in this new season to the power of continual engagement. Stacey Abrams has remained engaged in the voter process after her 2018 Georgia gubernatorial run was sabotaged by voter suppression. She has used the experience to create an organization, Fair Fight, to combat voter suppression nationwide. Her story, and the work of voting rights advocacy, is featured in the new Amazon Prime documentary All In: The Fight for Democracy. In addition, Abrams said, the census is as essential to the African American community as the vote and is equally under attack by the current administration. The census, Abrams noted, provides access to power and privilege for the African American community. She pointed out that political districts will be redrawn and money will be allocated for recovery post-pandemic based on 2020 census data. “Filling out the census is how you get what you deserve,” Abrams said. “It’s how you get your economic power.” Understand your voting options, choose an option and make a plan to vote. This is the strategy that voting rights advocates are suggesting for voters to successfully navigate this election season. Get accurate, up-to-date information state by state from trusted sources and file a complaint if you experience a problem with voting by calling 866-OUR-VOTE or visit vote.org. Special Voting Supplement 2020 7
By Shannon Gibney
When Women Vote
Roughly 92 million Americans sat it out in the last election. “We can’t afford that this election,” said Teresa Kumar, CEO of Voto Latino, during a press call hosted by the group Vote for Her on National Voter Registration Day. In addition to Sisters Lead Sisters Vote and Kumar of Voto Latino, the Vote for Her panel included Cecile Richards, co-founder of Supermajority and former Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett. They discussed engaging women voters and what’s at stake in this election. Sisters Lead Sisters Vote was formed two years ago “by a group of Black women leaders to be a voice for the interests of Black women and their families.” According to its website, the organization: 1. S upports issues and policies that affect the well-being of Black women, their families and communities of African descent and economically disadvantaged communities; 2. P rovides education about issues, candidates for political office and the political process; 3. P romotes the civic engagement and participation and community leadership of women of African descent and the diaspora in America; and
4. E ngages and organizes our community locally, nationally and online to stand for the issues, policies and people that impact the lives of Black women and their families. “Sisters Lead was actually created specifically for a time like this,” said Holli Holliday, president of Sisters Lead Sisters Vote. “This election is about our lives … whether we live or die, and how we will live in this country.” Holliday urged women to verify their registration, noting that Trump has used three primary strategies to win, including voter suppression and the ability to energize his base. “The other has been to articulate and divide what we know to be the progressive coalition, by picking us off small groups at a time,” noted Holliday. According to Kumar, Voto Latino has registered more than 307,000 individuals, 72 percent of whom are female, and overall, 79 percent are under the age of 33. The participation of women at the voting booth, and Latinas in particular, is going to make all the difference, noted Kumar. “For the very first time, Latinos are going to be the second largest potential voting bloc, but our biggest challenge in the community is that half of us are not registered,” Kumar said.
“When registered, 79 percent of us cast a vote, and Latinas lead the way every single time. Our goal at Voto Latino is to close that registration gap.” Richards, co-founder of Supermajority, noted the impact of the pandemic on women. “Women are still today struggling to work, while all the time taking care of kids at home. Women have been the hardest hit by now record unemployment, as service workers struggling to make ends meet,” said Richards. “And yet, instead of taking care of any of these issues, instead of doing their jobs, Donald Trump and Mitch McConnell are rushing to push through a Supreme Court justice ... committed to overturning Roe v. Wade.” Trump’s Supreme Court pick would add to the conservative majority, which could possibly overturn the Affordable Care Act. If that happened, health care coverage would end for 20 million Americans, Richards pointed out. “That’s why we need change in Washington,” said Richards. “It’s why we need every single woman in this country to register and vote, because we are the majority. It’s why we need a woman in the executive branch.” Speaking from her experience helping Barack Obama win the White House twice, Valerie Jarrett said women will have a huge impact on the outcome of this election. “We know that turnout is going to affect the outcome,” said Jarrett. “And who better than a group of women to ensure that we have turnout all across this country — people of all races, all backgrounds, all ages? We want to lift up those voices to participate in our democracy.” Special Voting Supplement 2020 9
NBA Arenas Used as
Polling Stations B y Davi d Ste e l e
NBA arenas across the
country are being transformed into voting sites for the 2020 general elections in November. The details were ironed out beginning in late August, and as recently as the last week of September, even more plans were being finalized. But the idea of NBA arenas serving as large-scale, COVID-safe voting locations for this year’s critical elections has been floating around since late June, barely a month after George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, was killed by Minneapolis police. To be clear, the idea was floated by both NBA and WNBA players who play in those arenas, including Natasha Cloud, Bradley Beal, Aerial Powers, Ian Mahinmi and their teammates on the Washington Wizards and Washington Mystics.
Individually and collectively, the players nudged the franchise to first open up the Wizards’ downtown home, the roughly 20,000-seat capacity Capital One Arena and then demanded that the Mystics’ two-yearold 4,200-seat Entertainment and Sports Arena in a previously-blighted area of southeast Washington, D.C., be available as well. The move made too much sense to not do it — and all things considered, long before and ever since the racial reckoning in the wake of Floyd’s slaying gripped the country, it was long overdue. It took a social upheaval and a racial awakening the magnitude of this year’s unrest to convince billiondollar sports empires to service and engage in the cities where they profit. The disconnect was commonplace and accepted, not just in Washington but in every major city with a big-league sports franchise and a state-of-the-art venue (or two, or three, or four). The players broke the disconnect. They gave a clear, unambiguous answer to every question about what these athletes plan to do besides kneeling, raising fists and interrupting America’s escape into sports for relief from the pandemic, recession and racial unrest. And in the process, they put their employers, the 1 percent, the wielders of true power in their business, on blast. Are you going to post a boilerplate statement in support of unity and understanding? They asked. Or are you going to be an actual ally? Are the players, the city and its residents really your partners, or is this a one-way street? When Natasha Cloud, a star for the then-reigning WNBA champion Mystics, wrote a first-person manifesto titled, “Your Silence Is a Knee on My Neck,” days after George Floyd’s killing, she did not specifically mention opening arenas as voting locations. What she said, though, was a wake-up call for every athlete who might feel as if their role really was to simply “shut up and dribble.” In her May 30th message for The Players’ Tribune, Cloud wrote: “…what’s really going to move the needle here is everyone getting involved — and by that I Special Voting Supplement 2020 11
“ There’s no room for any of that silence or neutrality in the athlete community... We need to meet this moment with accountability, and solidarity, and leadership.” mean all athletes. Because there’s no room for any of that silence or “neutrality” in the athlete community either. Those old excuses about not wanting to lose sponsorships, or not wanting to alienate certain types of fans, or how “racists buy sneakers too” or whatever?? We don’t have time for that. Not when lives are being lost. We need to meet this moment with accountability, and solidarity, and leadership.” A little over a month later, the Atlanta Hawks, Detroit Pistons and Milwaukee Bucks had offered their arenas for use as voting centers — all in states with well-documented misfires and malfunctions involving voter access, voter suppression and basic operations surrounding elections.
In mid-July, Wizards’ center Ian Mahinmi told NBC Sports Washington: “I think it’s our job to provide a platform and to help the people that are lacking space and time to do and exercise their right. When you look around the country, across the country, and what’s going on as far as the ability to vote, providing this for the people would be such a great move.’’ Yet the NBA, its owners and arena operators did not get fully on board until the players threw down their biggest card. On Aug. 26, at their pandemic-mandated “bubble” in Orlando, Fla., in response to police in Kenosha, Wis., shooting Jacob Blake in the back seven times, the NBA and WNBA teams went on strike. The NBA teams, led by the Milwaukee Bucks, who walked off the court in the middle of their playoffs. Kenny Smith, a co-host on TNT’s Inside the NBA postgame show and a two-time championship winner as a player, joined the walkout that night by leaving the set while live on-air, saying: “As a Black man, as a former player, I think it’s best for me to support the players and just not be here tonight, and figure out what happens after that.” Three days later, as a condition of both the NBA and WNBA players returning, the leagues and the players hammered out an agreement for teams to either open their arenas to registration, voting, ballot collection and anything else the city needed, or to work to find a venue that could. As of the beginning of October, that meant that no fewer than 22 locations, with three cities — New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., — providing two locations each. The league belatedly added the arena in Southeast D.C., which had literally been an afterthought until the players on both Washington teams raised a stink about the voters in the city’s poorest precincts being abandoned. The momentum started in the NBA and WNBA and reached into other major sports — not as widely, but to great effect in areas of real need. In the NFL, according to ESPN.com, 12 stadiums were on schedule to be used for voting as of early October; five Major League Baseball stadiums were as well. In the NHL, two arenas that did not have NBA teams as co-tenants will be open. The words and the gestures by the players were louder. By kicking open doors to voting that had long been locked, their actions proved to be even louder.
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Advocates Work to Counter Voter ID Laws That Disenfranchise Voters
B y Cy n t h i a Y e l d e l l A n d e r s o n
JOSHUA LOTT / Contributor TK
Special Voting Supplement 2020 15
documents, providing transportation and helping them navigate what can be a complex system. Approximately 57 percent of Spread the Vote’s clients don’t have birth certificates. Many don’t have the means to pay fees which can be up to $40, Calvin said. According to the ACLU, minority voters disproportionately lack identification. Nationally, up to 25 percent of African-American citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8 percent of whites. While supporters of strict voter ID laws argue that obtaining an ID is not difficult, research shows otherwise. For example, of the 47 driver’s license stations listed on the Mississippi Department of Public Safety’s website, nearly a third of them were listed as closed or temporarily closed. This requires residents in many of the state’s low-income areas to travel 20 miles or more to another town just to get an ID. “People in cities may think, ‘I pass three DMVs [Division of Motor Vehicles] on my way to work,’ but in most of America, they are not that plentiful,” said Calvin, noting that the state of West Virginia has only seven driver’s license stations in the entire state. Monica Thompkins, who lives in a rural Mississippi town outside of Clarksdale, visited seven different DMVs in Mississippi over the course of two months in late 2019 in an attempt to obtain a driver’s license for her teenage son. Thompkins, who works full time, attempted to find a DMV where she could get service in the afternoon. However, at most of the Mississippi DMV locations Thompkins visited including — Southaven, Nesbit and Clarksdale — she found dozens of people in line ahead of
Samuel Corum / Stringer
the United States enters the 2020 presidential election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voting advocates are working to counter voter identification laws that are increasingly used to suppress the minority vote. Kat Calvin, founder and executive director of Spread the Vote, an organization that helps people obtain IDs, said the number of states that have voter identification requirements at the polls has increased from 21 to 36 since she began her organization in 2017. Seven of those states — including Tennessee and Mississippi — have strict photo ID laws, which require voters to have one of a limited variety of government-issued photo IDs. Obtaining these can be difficult if not impossible for people who live in rural or lower income communities. “The entire intent is voter suppression,” Calvin said. “People have said on video that for lowincome Black and brown people, it’s an attempt to suppress the vote.” Spread the Vote assists voters in obtaining IDs by paying fees, helping them obtain necessary
“ The entire intent [of Voter ID laws] is voter suppression. People have said on video that for low-income Black and brown people, it’s an attempt to suppress the vote.”
her when she arrived, making same-day service virtually impossible. “You have to take a number and if they close at 4 or 5 o’clock, there might be 50 people ahead of you,” Thompkins said. “It’s horrible. It’s like they don’t value your time, but you have to take the time to drive there.” When Thompkins took a day off to drive more than two hours from her home, she found that DMV locations in Greenville and Cleveland, Miss., were closed and another location in Indianola was overcrowded. She finally was able to get her son’s license at a DMV in Greenwood, Miss., a 140-mile drive from her home. “It’s really bad in the Delta towns — Greenville, Cleveland and Indianola; that’s a bad situation,” said Thompkins. She believes the process will deter many people from getting IDs and ultimately from voting. “You are talking about getting an ID, but there are no jobs, and no hope for getting jobs,” Thompkins said. “People aren’t going to stand in line for an ID.” In addition to its decreasing number of DMVs in recent years, Mississippi requires voters to visit driver’s license stations on days of the week according to the first letter of their last name. Mondays are reserved for last names ending in A-E, Tuesdays F-L, Wednesdays (renewals and duplicates), Thursdays M-S, and Fridays T-Z. “We are asking them to gather a file folder full of documents, collect enough money and find their way to a DMV, and that’s really hard,” Calvin said. Jonathan Harrison of Virginia said he would have given up on the idea of obtaining an ID if Spread the
Vote had not stepped in to assist him. Originally from Pennsylvania, Harrison couldn’t get a Virginia license without his social security card, which he didn’t have. “I needed my social security card to send for my license, and vice versa. I needed my license to get an ID. It was literally impossible,” Harrison said. “I’m not good with all that stuff.” Harrison said Spread the Vote helped him obtain both his driver’s license and social security card, and covered all of his fees. Spread the Vote has helped an estimated 5,000 people obtain ID, but Calvin said the need is much greater. An estimated 21 million eligible voters don’t have IDs, she added. Among them are the thousands of people being released from prison (many for petty crimes for which they couldn’t afford bail) who are now re-entering the population due to early release because of COVID-19. “Photo ID laws are hard to fight, so I decided to help people get IDs,” Calvin said.
Voter Identification Laws in Effect in 2020 Strict Photo ID
Strict Non-Photo ID
Photo ID requested
ID requested; photo not required
No document required to vote
SOURCE: National Conference of State Legislatures
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Battling the Odds to Get Black Voters to the
DeShie n y r h t By Ka
Suyla Maria Marques Da Silva / EyeEm
Election Day is just a few days away.
Pair a pandemic that requires social distancing and constant disinfecting with President Donald Trump’s claims that mail-in ballots “are very dangerous for this country because of cheaters,” and you have a perfect storm brewing around one of the most important days in U.S. politics. “We can’t do the door-to-door organizing that we’re used to. It’s not safe with COVID-19,” said Latosha Brown, co-founder of the Black Voters Matter Fund (BVMF), a power-building civic organization aimed at expanding voter engagement in predominantly Black communities. Brown said another threat to the election process this year is Trump, whose administration has engaged in “a tremendous amount of intentional confusion to make people doubt processes.” And that, she said, “makes getting people ready to vote that much more difficult.” With door-to-door contact no longer a useful tool, the Black Voters Matter Fund launched a “WE GOT THE POWER” national bus tour campaign to reach Black voters in the final weeks leading up to Election Day. The campaign involves several large tour buses and 22 minibuses visiting 11 battleground states. During the tour, a “Love and Power” bus rolls through town spreading its voter outreach message, as a caravan of community members trail behind in their cars to create some excitement. Local block club captains also engage with their neighborhoods to help share information about the voting process. “We’re letting people know we’re still fighting in this election cycle, and it gives us a way to connect while being socially distanced,” said Brown. The QR codes on the Love and Power bus and caravan cars allow voters to check their voting status and register on the spot. (QR, short for quick response, is a type of barcode that can be read or scanned quickly with a cell phone.) BVMF also utilizes radio ads, digital public service announcements, text messaging and weekly training sessions on how to vote during COVID-19. In another civic engagement program aimed at increasing Black voter turnout, the NAACP has launched a national “Black Voices Change Lives” campaign. The program recruits high-propensity Black voters to volunteer their time to encourage lowfrequency Black voters to vote. “In this time of crisis, each of us is obligated to make sure that all people in our communities vote,” said
NAACP President Derrick Johnson. “We have to call our neighbors, text our friends, email our loved ones and remind them to vote because our lives literally depend on it.” The “Black Voices Change Lives” campaign is one of many initiatives the NAACP launched this year. In partnership with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), the NAACP in September began a million-dollar radio ad campaign “While He Lied, Black People Died” to run on Black radio stations in critical swing states. The NAACP also launched its “Power of 5: Community Voter Outreach Program.” The campaign includes handing out literature on voting in public areas, such as shopping centers, and in Black neighborhoods across 15 cities in 13 states and Washington, D.C. for five days. However, the battle to reach Black voters isn’t just a logistical one. The fight is also against voter confusion and voter apathy, and it’s about encouraging people to act despite the hurdles. “We lean in, listen, affirm that what they are feeling matters to us, and often we are frustrated as well,” said Brown. “We ask them what they care about, instead of talking about voting. We listen first, then we show them how the thing they care about can be impacted by their vote,” she added. “We’re honest about the limitations of voting and its impact. It won’t solve all the problems, but it will absolutely have some measure of impact and influence.” Election Day is November 3, 2020. Visit https://www.vote.org/ voter-registration-deadlines/ to check your state’s voter registration deadline for mail-in, in-person, and online voting. Special Voting Supplement 2020 19
BEHIND BARS Advocates work to ensure ballot access for jail voters during pandemic.
B y L a Ri sa R. L yn c h
Joyce Harris voted for the first time when she landed in Chicago’s Cook County Jail on a drug possession charge earlier this year. She has been a registered voter for more than three decades, but never participated in any elections. “I just thought if I voted, it really wouldn’t mean anything. I’m just one person,” the 53-year-old Harris said of her long absence from the polls. “I didn’t know I had a voice then. I didn’t know my voice could be through my vote. I just lately learned that.”
Harris’ aha moment came when a correctional officer at the jail asked if she was registered and wanted to vote in Chicago’s March 2020 primary. She didn’t realize voting was one of the few rights she retained while awaiting trial. So she jumped at the chance. Harris saw it as an opportunity to let her voice be heard on issues like substance abuse, housing and jobs, especially for justice-involved individuals. “I want to be a part of change,” says Harris, who admitted the lack of information on candidates made voting somewhat challenging. “If we are going to be allowed to vote, we need more information on who’s running. I need to know how can I benefit from voting for a particular candidate.” Harris’ ability to vote inside the Cook County Jail marked the test of a law passed last year designating the nation’s largest single-site detention facility as a polling place. She was among the 1,850 inmates who voted in the March primary, compared to the 1,183 votes cast in the 2016 primary. Advocates, who had long fought to strengthen ballot access among Illinois’ nearly 20,000 pretrial detainees, attributed the high turnout to the jail being an actual polling place. But that effort was nearly sidelined. During a June board meeting, the city’s election authority floated the idea of jail inmates casting absentee ballots as the country grapples with the novel coronavirus. Since March, the Cook County Jail has had more than 900 confirmed positive cases and seven deaths. Chicago Votes’ Deputy Director Jen Dean understood the need for keeping the jail population safe as well as the contingent of volunteers that register inmates. But she expressed concern that doing absentee balloting was a step “backwards.” The young-adult-led civics organization has headed up the city’s jail-based voting efforts for the last three years. “We heard that and immediately started raising the flag of that’s going backwards…,” Dean said. “We definitely [were] advocating to allow machines to protect same-day voter registration at jail as our No. 1 goal….” Concerns about the global pandemic, which has claimed the lives of more than 200,000 US citizens, prompted many election officials to find ways to hold elections safely without voters choosing between their health and their right to vote. Some elections authorities Special Voting Supplement 2020 21
expanded online voting, mailin balloting or extended early voting days. Others were less accommodating, say voting rights advocates. But all these initiatives excluded the nation’s nearly 740,000 jail inmates, some of whom are still eligible to vote but face barriers to ballot access and information. As of midyear 2018, 66 percent or 490,000 of these inmates retain the right to vote because they’re awaiting trial and have not been convicted of a crime. Others serving certain misdemeanor convictions can also vote. Nationally, there has been growing momentum to ensure eligible incarcerated individuals have access to the ballot. But the coronavirus is compounding those efforts during a critical presidential election. Many jails and prisons have become hotspots for the virus and were put on lock down, including Cook County, to stop the virus from spreading. Advocates who do jail-based voting outreach across the nation had to pivot to find alternative ways to do voter outreach for incarcerated individuals and ensure election authorities or jail administrators won’t use the global pandemic to disenfranchise eligible jail voters. Some community groups mailed voter registration information to people in jails, established voter registration hotlines or piloted polling places inside jail facilities. Chicago Votes and its partners wanted to ensure Cook County Jail remained a polling place. It will allow inmates to take advantage of same-day voter registration and voting. During the March primary, more than 600 jail inmates chose that route. That wouldn’t happen under the absentee balloting system, which the jail used in the past to allow individuals to vote. A person incarcerated in the jail a few days 22 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM
before the election but after the deadline for absentee ballot application would be disenfranchised, Dean said. “From our perspective those voters could possibly be disenfranchised if those machines weren’t in there and they only did an absentee program,” she said. The group is already back in jail doing voter registration and will have two weekends of in-person early voting this month. Since COVID-19 limited jail access, the group hasn’t been able to register as many voters. In 2019 and 2018, they registered 1,765 and 2,735 new voters respectively. At the time of the March primary they registered only a little over 500. “It is a giant relief and a privilege that we are given that I know a lot of people don’t have access to,” Dean said. “I am definitely making sure that people are trained and ready to be in there again because it is a whole different environment.” In a statement, the outgoing executive director of the Chicago Board of Election, Lance Gough, reaffirmed the board’s commitment to ensuring jail inmates have ballot access. The board runs the jail election with the Cook County Clerk’s office and Sheriff Tom Dart’s office. “The board will work with the Sheriff’s Department, as it did ahead of the March Primary, to provide a polling place with voting equipment inside the jail,” the statement read. “The board has routinely provided voting and registration services to all pretrial detainees at the Cook County Jail since the 1970s. Only this year, under new legislation that the Chicago Election Board supported, did we gain the ability to grow the program to include placing voting equipment inside the jail so that detainees could cast … there [votes].” A scaled-down version of early voting is returning to the jail for the general election. The jail will have four polling stations down from seven as it did during the March primary to allow for social distancing and to stay within its COVID-19 protocols, said Cook County Jail’s Marlena Jentz, who added that anyone wanting to vote will have a chance to do so. “We feel that we can run the operation we need to run and be as successful as we were in March using the four polling locations,” said Jentz, the jail’s assistant executive director of programs. She noted that the volunteer-led voter registration drive is one of many programs returning to the jail as part of its larger initiative to gradually return community-based programming inside the jail. But she added that allowing detainees to vote is part of Sheriff Dart’s larger efforts to help individuals leaving custody return to their communities as productive citizens. “...[W]hat better way to empower people in a positive way than to say your voice and your vote matters.”
Samuel Corum / Stringer
“ What better way to empower people in a positive way than to say your voice and your vote matters.” Jail-based Disenfranchisement Ballot access in jail depends on the jurisdictions, said Dana Paikowsky of the Washington, DC-based, Campaign Legal Center. Some jurisdictions like Cook County are making strides to provide ballot access while others are not. Though several U.S. Supreme Court decisions, including the case of O’Brien v. Skinner, affirmed that states cannot deny eligible voters who are incarcerated access to the ballot. That’s more theory than practice, Paikowsky said. Bureaucratic obstacles to voting and establishing jail-based voting policies and procedures limit voter participation, Paikowsky said. Many jails and election officials are unaware that inmates are eligible to vote — even some inmates themselves are uninformed, she said. Access to the internet, reliable mail service as well as information on ballot applications and registration deadlines are not always available to inmates. Unless
third parties, like election officials, family members or volunteer groups provide that information, detainees face disenfranchisement, Paikowsky said. Administrative delays also add to those barriers, especially getting election authorities and jail administrators to work in tandem to set up voting infrastructure in jails. The pandemic, Paikowsky noted, just exacerbates those barriers. “Jails just have layers of bureaucracy that slow the process of requesting and casting a ballot down,’’ said Paikowsky, the center’s Equal Justice Works Fellow. “COVID-19 is taking a situation where voting is enormously Special Voting Supplement 2020 23
difficult and making it that much more impossible.” Even more concerning is who jail-based disenfranchisement affects. Jail-based voters are often people of color, low-income, have a disability and can’t afford to bond out, Paikowsky said. It mirrors the history of mass incarceration. Both, she noted, are rooted in this country’s legacy of racism and exclusion of marginalized people. It’s no surprise, she added, that society has not found a way to prioritize their voices. “It should be more intuitive to the state to put election infrastructures in jails where you know eligible voters will be…,” Paikowsky said. “This is literally a captive population of eligible voters that have been overlooked and unserved for forever. It is time to change it.” The landscape for jailbased disenfranchisement is changing slowly. A handful of jail administrators are putting polling places in their facilities. The Los
Angeles Sheriff’s Department rolled out an initiative early this year to put “ballot marking devices” in one of its detention facilities. Last year, advocates urged Harris County officials in Texas to consider placing a polling station inside its jail, but logistical issues stalled the effort. And Colorado could be the first state in the nation to have on-site polling places in all its county-run jails if Juston Cooper gets his way. His Denver-based organization, Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition, partnered with the Denver County sheriff and the city’s election commission to pilot polling places inside the city’s detention center and the county jail for several early voting days and on Election Day. If the pilot succeeds, Cooper hopes this encourages state officials to make jail-based polling places a statewide policy. But Cooper admitted that the pandemic opened the door to have those conversations. “Prior to COVID there wasn’t even a conversation,” said Cooper, the coalition’s deputy director. “There wasn’t even an option because Denver [jail] stayed overpopulated. But with COVID, what we are able to do now because of the decreased population is push more for this access.” Cooper’s group has been doing voter registration and education since 2016. That year, he noted the jail turnout was higher than the county’s. Cooper hopes for a repeat this year even though COVID cut short his group’s outreach.
“We are able to see that folks in jail regardless of being confined who are eligible would actually vote if they are engaged,” Cooper said. An Important Constituency While efforts exist to end jail-based disenfranchisement, another movement is slowly gaining traction to enfranchise people incarcerated in the nation’s prisons. Vermont and Maine were the only two states allowing those serving felony convictions to vote in prison. Washington, D.C., began a similar policy this year. The nation’s capital passed a police reform package in July that included restoring voting rights to D.C. residents serving time in U.S. federal prisons. The district does not have any prisons so those convicted of a crime serve their time in federal penitentiaries. “So many of us believe that incarcerated people have always been disenfranchised or that somehow losing the right to vote is part and parcel for punishment of a crime. Frankly these are two very different things,” said D.C. Councilman Robert C. White, who dovetailed his “Restore the Vote” amendment into a broader police reform bill. The law mandates the district’s board of election and the Federal Bureau of Prisons identify residents in federal prisons and send them absentee ballots. It affects about 4,500 incarcerated D.C. residents serving time in federal facilities. Enacted on an emergency basis, the law will enable D.C. incarcerated residents to vote in the November general elections. The City Council is expected to pass a permanent version of the bill later this year. “I think my bill will help incarcerated people be seen as an important constituency,” White said. Giving them a voice through their vote will result in greater accountability within the prison system, which he noted, overuses solitary confinement, offers inadequate reentry support and subpar health care. “People impacted by these bad policies have no vote to hold elected representatives accountable,” he said. “With the vote I certainly expect incarcerated people to demand better services and, frankly, that is going to make us much safer and help decrease recidivism across the country.” White hopes his bill inspires others to follow suit. There have been unsuccessful attempts in Hawaii, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Mexico and New Jersey to enfranchise people incarcerated in prisons. U.S. Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts introduced a comprehensive criminal legal reform resolution in the House last year. The resolution aims to ensure voting rights for all citizens, including those incarcerated in prisons, the formerly incarcerated and those awaiting trial. Attempts to reach Pressley for comments were unsuccessful. Back in Illinois, State Rep. LaShawn Ford is building on Illinois’ efforts to eliminate jail disenfranchisement.
Ford introduced two bills this year that could grant residents in Illinois prisons the right to vote. One bill goes as far as to amend the state constitution to enfranchise those sentenced to prison while the other seeks to change state election code. Incarceration, Ford noted, disproportionately affects Black people who suffer from collateral consequences long after they complete their sentence. Individuals with felony convictions find it difficult to get employment, housing, or even scholarships to attend college. Prison, he said, should be about the rehabilitation of a person, not the loss of one’s citizenship. “The loss of one’s freedom and being away from family should be the punishment for breaking the law,” he said. “Taking voting rights away is modern-day enslavement. How does that help them reintegrate into society? How is that a good punishment saying, ‘You can’t vote.’” Harris, the Chicago resident who voted for the first time in Cook County Jail, hopes to be home for the November general election and plans to vote. She landed back in jail on a probation violation in July. But she has a message for critics reluctant to enfranchise incarcerated citizens. “My ancestors already paid the price so that we may vote. The price has been paid,” said Harris, who plays several reed instruments and aspires to write scores for motion pictures. “Because we are incarcerated does not mean we don’t have principles and morals. It doesn’t mean we don’t want change.” This article is part of a project on voting rights in America led by The GroundTruth Project, with support from the Jesse and Betsy Fink Charitable Fund, the Solutions Journalism Network and the MacArthur Foundation. Special Voting Supplement 2020 25
B y Me l a n i e E v e r s l e y
Left Page: MicroStockHub; This Page: izusek, Deagreez, Prostock-Studio, alvarez
B y Sh e i l a B a n k s
JULY 2020 27
oung Black Americans have a promising future with the voting booth. That is the word from activists who are connecting with young Black voting-age Americans. Activists are working to help Gen Z and Millennials understand their vote gives them local, state and national influence. While young Americans of color may have shunned the ballot box in large numbers during the 2016 presidential election, all indications now are that many Black adults under 30 are gearing up to vote in the November election. This is happening in spite of the coronavirus pandemic and the many voter suppression efforts. “I actually think this younger generation is one of the most politicized in history,” said Kayla Reed, a 30-year-old activist in St. Louis and an organizer of the Aug. 28 Movement for Black Lives Black National Convention, aimed at young people. Said Tiffany Loftin, the 31-yearold national director for the NAACP youth and college division: “Ninetynine-point-nine percent of the people I’m speaking to are voting and they are not only convinced, but they are enraged, they are upset, they are tired of watching the country go in the direction it’s going.” Loftin oversees 340 middle school, high school and college units aimed at drawing young people into the voting booth. Some of the energy is due to the front-and-center issues before young people this year, activists said. Young people are engaged when it comes to their world, according to Loftin. They are angry about Breonna Taylor, the young Black emergency room medical technician fatally shot in her home by Louisville, Ky., police in March. They are worried about health disparities during a worldwide pandemic. They are concerned that Black people are being coerced into testing vaccines. 28 THECRISISMAGAZINE.COM
REGISTERED VOTERS BY AGE GROUP
Source: Commission On Elections for Esquire Magazine
M I L L E NNI AL S
BABY BOOM E RS AND S I L E NT
16% GE N Z
Young people are voting. They enraged. They are upset. They are tired of watching the country go in the direction it’s going.
26% GE N X
They are angry about premature moves around the country to reopen schools. They are concerned about student debt and Black borrowing overall, Loftin said. The new focus — Tiffany Dena Loftin, director, on young voters NAACP Youth and College Division came after a 2016 presidential election that took many by surprise, when Republican Donald Trump beat Democrat Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College vote. Analysts declared that young Americans of color were among those who did not cast ballots and helped hand the presidency to Trump. In 2016, 46 percent of young Black voters did not cast ballots, according to a SurveyMonkey poll of about 100,000 voters released in 2017. They were more likely to have supported U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont Democrat, in the Democratic primary. Voter turnout of Black Americans under 30 in 2008, the first year that Barack Obama ran for president, was 58.2 percent, according to the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University. By 2012, that number dipped a bit for that same group to 53.7 percent. The 2018 midterm elections saw a 53.4 percent voter turnout, according to the Census Bureau. This was the highest midterm turnout since 1978, when the bureau started logging such numbers. Among Black voters under 30, turnout surged from 24 percent in the 2014 midterm elections to 35 percent in 2018, according to a Brookings Institution evaluation of census figures.
“When people don’t think their vote matters it’s because they legitimately don’t think it matters.”
While that data showed some promise, other data shows activists still have work ahead of them, according to a spokeswoman for When We All Vote, the nonprofit launched in 2018 by former First Lady Michelle Obama, actor/singer Janelle Monae, composer Lin-Manuel Miranda and more. The organization works to erase voting barriers. “In 2018, we saw the largest turnout of young people in decades for a midterm election,” said Crystal Carson, communications director for When We All Vote. “Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of young people still did not cast their ballot, so we know there is still work to be done.” In July, a survey of six key election states by the American University Black Swing Voter Project of Black Americans under 30 showed that 45 percent don’t plan to vote for either Democratic nominee Joe Biden or President Trump, don’t plan to vote at all or are not sure. Many don’t trust the political process, according to the survey. Organizers are juggling multiple challenges in order to make sure the trend stays positive. There is the pandemic, which is limiting traditional face-to-face and door-to-door get-out-the-vote efforts. Then there are the many places that are resisting the push to make voter registration digital or enforcing strict identification requirements. Then, there is a gap when it comes to young people understanding how Democracy works. As BlackPAC Executive Director Adrianne Shropshire sees it, young people have been missing that true understanding of the political system and, deep down,
— Adrianne Shropshire
are embarrassed to ask about it. Shropshire’s organization aims to harness Black American political power. Some of the young people who took part in focus groups put together by her organization in 2018 did not understand midterm elections, Shropshire recalled. Some of the participants also did not understand the concept of a major political party retaking the Congress and what that might mean, she said. “When people don’t think their vote matters it’s because they legitimately don’t think it matters,” Shropshire said. This lack of understanding is tied to a disconnect between what young
IF EVERYONE VOTES Estimates of the additional net votes for Democrats and Republicans if everyone in these groups turned out in presidential elections. Full turnout by whites would result in a net gain for Republicans.
If every black person voted Latino Asian White women with college degrees +5.4 million net Rep. voters
+9 million net Dem. voters +5.6 million +2.7 million +1.1 million If every white person voted
Special Voting Supplement 2020 29
“Unfortunately, nearly two-thirds of young people did not cast their ballot [in 2018] so we know there is still work to be done.” — Crystal Carson
people know their communities need and what elected officials and government offer them. “I think when people made the decision not to vote in 2016, they were making a legitimate political statement about what they wanted and what they didn’t see in front of them,” Shropshire said. “I think some of this is people making pretty sophisticated political calculations.” This is a view that some young Black Americans who have said they
will not vote expressed to The Crisis, but they declined to go on the record. A frequent topic of conversation is the misfortune that many have seen in a year some view as cursed, and organizers said 2020 has proven to be a challenge in terms of connecting with young voters. The pandemic and the widespread grief that has come with it, along with the May 25 death of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, and America’s subsequent racial reckoning, have diluted all other messages. “The pandemic was hard to navigate and this summer, we were dealing with the 50-state uprising where people were in the streets — and that created a reality where talking about voting maybe wasn’t the primary thing,” said Reed of the Movement for Black Lives. Voter suppression has created challenges too, said Loftin of the NAACP. “It’s not just about the candidates, but also sorting machines being taken out by the U.S. Postal Service, precincts being shut down, states that refuse to make voter registration digital,” she said. Even with all of this, organizers believe they have found a formula that is helping young Black people
In 2020, one-in-ten eligible voters will be members of Generation Z % of eligible voters by generation
Aaron J. Thornton / Contributor
become more amenable to the idea that elected officials and the political process are supposed to support them. What has worked is a mix of the tried-and-true talking to people one-on-one, while observing social distancing guidelines, and new technology that makes wider outreach possible. Social media and streaming platforms are part of the mix. Loftin, for instance, interacts with her followers on Instagram, and even asked recently who was not voting. Reed’s organization has been able to track the numbers of viewers to the Black National Convention through its website. Members of Reed’s organization have knocked on 40,000 doors. The group’s virtual convention in August and a preliminary meeting tied to it have helped young Black voters create a political agenda that includes a climate response, racial concerns and inclusion of the queer and trans community, she said. Video of the preliminary meeting has been viewed by 500 activists in 23 states, Reed said. Going forward, those fighting for change and voter empowerment should focus on supporting and working with grassroots organizations, said Reed, who co-founded Action St. Louis after the 2014 fatal shooting of Michael Brown, an unarmed Black teen, at the hands of police in Ferguson, Mo. “Action St. Louis and the Dream Defenders and BLOC (Black Leaders Organizing for Communities) in Milwaukee and BLM in Atlanta — are organizers that stay in the community well after the election,” Reed said. Organizations also must figure out ways that young people can feel they can safely ask how the political system works without worrying about ridicule, Shropshire advised. “It’s part of our community’s responsibility too, to make sure we are creating spaces so we are helping people to develop an analysis and basic understanding of our government,” she said. “When we engage them in a conversation and say, ‘Oh, it’s important to vote,’ and they start to say things that we connect with apathy, it really is a defense mechanism because people are embarrassed … that they cannot engage in this complicated conversation about politics.” Shropshire’s organization has tried to address this through a program called Black Citizenship in Action presented in conjunction with 14 other organizations aimed at empowering voters called Black Citizenship in Action. She likened it to the “citizenship schools” launched in South Carolina in the mid 1950s by NAACP member Septima Clark to help Black Americans pass the literacy tests required in some places for voter registration. The modern version educates participants on their rights as citizens and voting rights history. The program has gone online now, Shropshire said.
Tiffany Dena Loftin, director of the NAACP’s Youth and College Division, urges youth vote.
When We All Vote is connecting with young people where they live, so to speak. The group has launched a Vote 4EVER Merch campaign that involves selling clothing, accessories, jewelry, home goods and beauty products from businesses owned by African Americans and women. The line features products from masks to T-shirts with messages urging people to vote. “Many young people like to make statements through what they wear and with initiatives like these we hope to motivate them to get registered and vote,” Carson, of When We All Vote, said. Shropshire notes that the effects of COVID-19 coupled with racism is motivation enough for youth to vote. Many minority citizens don’t believe that the current administration has their community’s interest at heart, she notes. The NAACP youth and college students Loftin works with registered 1,500 people in a one-day blitz at the end of the summer. “Young folks are using their phones and apps and social media platforms — some are sharing postcards and pledge cards,” Loftin said. “We’ve been training people since last fall so I think we’re in a good spot.” Special Voting Supplement 2020 31
poses a threat to Black Americans By Nedra Rhone
bout 100 days before Americans headed to the polls to vote, U.S. intelligence officials issued an ominous but vague statement about the possibility of foreign countries interfering with the 2020 presidential election in the United States. “Many foreign actors have a preference for who wins the election, which they express through a range of overt and private statements; covert influence efforts are rarer,” said William R. Evanina, director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center. “We are primarily concerned about the ongoing and potential activity by China, Russia, and Iran,” Evanina added. The news comes as no surprise to Malcom Nance, an author, news commentator and former U.S. Navy senior chief petty officer with expertise on terrorism, intelligence and security issues. “We have foreign actors who have been emboldened and are playing in the American electoral process,” Nance said. Meddling in the U.S. presidential election started long before 2020. In 2016, Nance said, Russian hackers stole material from the Democratic National Committee’s computer servers then used subcontractors to release the information to the news media to damage Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. “[They know] the psychological makeup of the Trump campaign ... and they also understand the U.S. news media,” Nance said. “They have our number, and we don’t really know as much about them.” Nance said the particular type of meddling depends on the country. China, he said, collects information and uses it subtly and carefully, if at all. Russia is far more direct and savvy, said Nance. With the exposure of some of their past activities, foreign actors intent on interfering with U.S. elections have had to shift their methods in 2020 from releasing bots on social media to using human trolls. Such bots and trolls typically spread misinformation and false or misleading information online, including fake news, conspiracy theories or doctored videos. Nance said the
trolls along with cyber vigilantes invested in the philosophy of President Donald Trump have joined forces to amplify misleading themes, such as the idea that absentee ballots encourage election fraud or that Joe Biden is demented. Other concerns for the 2020 election include the possibility of foreign actors hacking state offices where votes are tallied. Nance said that North Korea could, for example, hack voting results on election night by dropping millions of Democratic ballots into voting machines and allowing the Trump administration to claim malicious actors cheated on behalf of the Democratic party, Nance said. In September, a whistle-blower revealed that intelligence officials in the Trump administration have edited their reports to conceal Russian activity just two weeks after John Ratcliffe, the director of national intelligence, said he would no longer allow in-person briefings about election interference to Congress. “This is an election to save America,” said Nance, noting that it will require the power of AfricanAmerican men and women to build coalitions and vote. If Black people don’t vote, he said, “All the progress America has made in 244 years will essentially go out of the window.” Nance said he is proud of how the Black community has pursued the truth in the 2020 election. “We are the clearest viewing population politically in the U.S.,” he said. “We know a threat to our community when we see one.” Special Voting Supplement 2020 33
New Documentary on
Voter Suppression Is What We Need
By D i e d r e J oh n s on
Benjamin Lowy / Contributor
Amazon Studiosâ&#x20AC;&#x2122; All In: The Fight For Democracy documentary is like a textbook on Black voting history, voting rights violations and atrocities, legalized suppression and tips on what can be done to make sure this doesnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t keep happening.
Special Voting Supplement 2020 35
All In: The Fight For Democracy is narrated by Stacey Abrams, the Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia’s 2018 election, former members of her campaign, and luminaries including veteran politician and political activist Andrew Young, Mother Jones voting rights journalist Ari Berman, and historian and author Carol Anderson. The one-hour-42-minute documentary is an eye-opening look in the United States and Abram’s failed campaign.
All In delves deep into the history of AfricanAmerican voting in the United States, starting with Reconstruction (1865-1877). It covers the astonishing number of Black politicians elected to the Senate after the Civil War (1861-1865) and the ratification of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution. The documentary looks at how white supremacists would not let this stand, quickly coming up with new discriminatory requirements for voting such as poll taxes, highly complicated literacy tests, and more, including brutal threats against Black voters and lynchings. The documentary covers how much of these Black voter suppression requirements should have changed with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The law provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of nonwhites had not registered to vote. It outlawed the literacy tests and required that “preclearance” be given by U.S. district courts and/ or the U.S. attorney general for all changes to voting regulations in certain states with a history of voting discrimination. The documentary also details how quickly individual states began poking holes in the Voting Rights law after the 2013 Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder, struck down preclearance requirements and how that practice has continued to the present. Abrams pointed out, for example, that after the Shelby decision, nine states quickly changed to government-issued IDs making it more difficult for many people, including young voters, whose regular student IDs are not eligible under this system. “When you restrict access to the right to vote by using a narrow set of IDs, it’s creating roadblocks to people being able to participate,” Abrams noted. Today, voter suppression doesn’t look like literacy tests or poll taxes. Instead, some states engage in voter suppression through mandatory government-issued IDs, purging (taking a voter off the voter rolls if they have not voted for two years or have moved and not responded with a new address) and gerrymandering. Gerrymandering is explained in the documentary as “a way of drawing voting districts and bringing unfair advantages to whoever happens to be drawing the lines.” Put simply, gerrymandering is accomplished by drawing lines around certain areas to include and exclude voters in a district. “Voter suppression and gerrymandering are two sides of the same coin,” says Berman of Mother Jones. “Politicians in power try to manipulate the process for themselves at the expense of others.” All In re-examines why Abrams felt she had reason to question her Republican rival Governor Brian Kemp’s
election because he was also Georgia Secretary of State and his office supervised elections, creating a conflict of interest. The film also looks at Kemp’s efforts to quickly take voters off the rolls for any reason, from not voting in the last two elections to the “exact match” voter requirement, which throws out ballots if they don’t have a Social Security or driver’s license signature, regardless of typos. Abrams’ campaign team tried to counter such efforts to suppress the vote, often going door-to-door appealing to registered voters or registering new voters. “We talked to people. We met them at their doors, their churches, their temples, their mosques, their shrines, their synagogues,” Abrams recalled. But in the end, it wasn’t enough. Abrams reportedly lost to Kemp by approximately 55,000 votes. She contested the results and asked for a recount but eventually conceded. “He [Kemp] was the constitutionally authorized election supervisor,” Abrams explained on camera. Unfortunately, there may be more Kemps out there. The film closes with this sobering fact: The Electoral Integrity Project lists the United States elections as being last among Western democracies. Finally, All In provides some takeaways for the 2020 election: 1. Increase voter turnout by volunteering to help register voters 2. C heck that you are confirmed to vote and that you have not been purged. 3. M ake sure your polling place has not moved. 4. Vote early and call friends and family to make sure they are registered 5. K now your precinct as well as the background of the person for whom you are voting. 6. V ote by mail. Despite what President Donald Trump says, there is no evidence that mail in ballots or absentee ballots increase voter fraud. 7. Be sure your voter information is correct and take screenshots of your registration for your records. 8. F ind out what forms of ID are needed to vote in your state and what you can do to be safe when casting socially distanced votes in person. 9. I f in line at the polling place and it closes, stay put, as everyone in line at that time still has a right to vote. 10. If you make a mistake on your voting form, ask for a new one. If the voting machines close, ask for a paper ballot.
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Background vector created by Hello-Pixel - www.freepik.com</a>
“I vote for all the people who made a way ― out of no way ― so that I might live in a world of choices. I vote for those who marched and prayed and sacrificed and withstood humiliations and disrespect and devastation just trying to cast a ballot. I vote for those who died carrying the dream that one day their vote would be counted and could matter. I vote for the shoulders I stand on. Those who paid for the crown I get to wear.”