Our ancestors have done immeasurable work in making a way for us to exercise what is, in theory, a protected right for all Americans. The fight for equal access to the American ballot box stretches on beyond a century. The 15th amendment which granted Black men the right to vote was quickly hindered by Jim Crow laws. When women gained the vote in 1920, Jane Crow stood in their way, too. These oppressive roadblocks weren’t overturned until nearly 100 years later with the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which would not have been possible without the work of countless grassroots organizations and action by the people.
But with as much progress as we’ve made, we can not look away from what is still on the table. For many, voting rights, the crux of our democracy, as well as reproductive rights, are still in jeopardy.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, a non-partisan law and policy institute, as of mid-January, more than 250 bills restricting voting access have been introduced, pre-filed, or carried over in 27 states. Many of these actions will disproportionately impact people of color and other underrepresented communities. For example, a Virginia bill would remove the right for people with disabilities to get assistance completing their ballot. Several states are considering bills requiring proof-of-citizenship to vote.
Around the country, many of these bills are being passed, making it harder for people to vote. Some states have restricted mail-in voting, adopted stricter voter ID laws, and/or restricted early voting. In two of the largest counties in Texas, for example, ID requirements have resulted in the rejection of over 25% of mail-in ballots cast, an abnormally high percentage. The state also recently banned drive-through voting and 24-hour voting, both used widely by people of color and people with disabilities. On top of tighter ID requirements, Georgia has reduced the number of drop-off ballot boxes and limited voting hours, among other obstacles. All of this is happening alongside what is, at times, discriminatory redistricting designed to divide communities of color and weaken the power of our voices at the polling place.
These issues affect women+, girls+ and LGBTQIA+ individuals more than any other demographic. Oppressive voter laws also impact reproductive rights as it hinders people’s ability to push back against laws that infringe on their reproductive health. Photo ID laws disenfranchise transgender and nonbinary people who are often hindered by the financial and legal obstacles connected with updating their IDs. According to the Movement Advancement Project, the South is home to one in three LGBTQIA+ people, and eight southern states have passed restrictive laws already.
While those of us in Massachusetts may feel protected from this injustice, we know that the links of oppression don’t snap from state to state. Any disenfranchisement we passively allow in another region of our country will show up at our door before long. What our brothers and sisters are dealing with in the South is just as much our problem to solve. That’s why we encourage you to get involved today and support grassroots leaders, particularly in the South, who are working to defend voting rights in their communities and create systems change to ensure that access to the ballot box isn’t up for debate in our democracy.
Here are a few organizations you can support today to get involved:
Black Voters Matter, Atlanta, GA
Fair Fight, Atlanta, GA
Texas Civil Rights Project, Austin, TX
Durham For All, Durham, NC
Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Durham, NC
Mass Vote, Boston, MA