Voter suppression is a problem that doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Although the media coverage of it is becoming more widespread, a spotlight is rarely put on the problem outside of election years. The lack of education on the issue can make it easy to overlook the constant fight to prevent important voices from being stifled. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, efforts to prevent certain groups from voting increased after a record voter turnout in the 2008 election. In 2011, 30 states introduced legislation to put limitations on who can vote. Of those measures, 16 passed.
Many states with Republican majorities have introduced new restrictions on voting that have disproportionately targeted members of minority communities. Currently, states such as Alabama require a photo ID to cast a ballot. Other states, such as Georgia and Ohio, have implemented “use it or lose it” policies, which allow election officials to drop people from the list of registered voters if they don’t cast a ballot for two years.
Although Florida recently celebrated the groundbreaking passage of a measure that restores voting rights to former felons after they complete probation, the state legislature has been working to create new hurdles. New requirements would force citizens with past felony convictions to pay off all court costs—potentially tens of thousands of dollars—before they can cast a ballot. A recent study in Florida also discovered that people who vote by mail are 10 times more likely not to have their vote counted.
With voter suppression becoming an increasing concern around the country, it’s easy to resign yourself to feeling overwhelmed or helpless. But regardless of whether the issue directly impacts you or your state, there are simple things you can do today to help combat the problem.
Verify that you’re still registered to vote
During the 2018 primaries, nearly 16 million names were purged from voter rolls, alarming voting rights advocates around the country. To make sure yours is not one of those names purged in the upcoming election, be sure to check your voter registration status. In most states, you can register to vote at any time--not just during an election year. Encourage friends and relatives to register to vote and verify their status when it gets closer to the next election. If you live in a state with early voting, find out when it will take place and tell your loved ones to mark it on their calendars. After all, studies have shown that states with early voting and easier access to registration have a higher turnout and less voter suppression than states that don’t.
Finally, make sure you’re eligible to vote in the first place. Some people with prior convictions have faced legal consequences for casting a ballot when they were ineligible.
Put pressure on members of Congress
Contacting members of Congress can be crucial in getting bills passed. Common Cause, an organization that works to promote comprehensive solutions in order to shift the power away from special interests, has created an easy tool to locate representatives around the country.
Once you find their contact information, you can write or call them to ask them to adopt a reform that would modernize elections and create additional avenues for people to register. The petition pushes the implementation of automatic voter registration (AVR) and encourages same-day voter registration. While you’re at it, you can also ask your senators to vote to pass HR1, the For the People Act. The bill would expand voting rights, limit partisan gerrymandering, and aim to get the special-interest money out of politics.
Familiarize yourself with local voting rights organizations
In order to get as many people to the polls as possible, familiarize yourself with local programs already existing in your area. Does any place in your community offer child care on election day? Do any groups in your community host voter education nights? Is a local group or organization offering rides to the polls? Are there opportunities to encourage your neighbors to register to vote? Find out which organizations are available to you and ask them how you can help.
Kat Calvin, the founder of Spread the Vote, an organization that aims to get people to the polls and ensures they have everything they need to vote, says getting involved in your community is one of the first places to start to fight suppression.
“By attacking the issue in your community and in Congress, we can all work together to fight voter suppression and make sure that every American can make their voices heard on Election Day,” she said. “Find out what’s in your area and either get involved or start your own program to make sure everyone in your community has everything they need to be empowered at the polls.”
You can also help out voting rights organizations outside your hometown. Florida nonprofit We Got the Vote has been working to register former felons to vote. You can make a donation to the organization in order to help those who are still barred from voting to help them pay off their remaining fines and fees.
Volunteer as a poll worker
Even though the first ballots for the 2020 election won’t be cast until next year, you can still sign up to work the polls. Even high school students as young as 16 years old are eligible to be poll workers—plus, they get paid!
“Poll workers are essential to ensuring the fair conduct of elections, yet two-thirds of jurisdictions across the U.S. have difficulty recruiting enough poll workers,” said Misty Jones, the senior legal mobilization coordinator for Election Protection. “The organization offers nonpartisan help in the voting process by responding to problems like polling place closures, broken voting machines, and problems with voter registration. Becoming a poll worker is an excellent opportunity for civic engagement in your community while protecting the voting rights of marginalized voters,” she said.
While each of these tasks is a great step to eliminating voter suppression, it won’t eliminate it entirely. If you or someone you know ever has issues registering or casting a ballot, make sure you and those around you have the Election Protection hotline handy.