We need every vote to count. Here’s how to make that happen.
Theoretically, everyone in America has the right to vote. In reality, not everyone gets to exercise that right.
Democracy is supposed to be founded on the ideal that citizens elect leaders to represent their needs in government. Many see voting as a responsibility that people must exercise in order to protect the democratic process. But when the U.S. was first founded, Black people, formerly enslaved people, Indigenous people, women and immigrants were not allowed that right.
Since then, activists and suffragettes have fought hard to gain and protect the right to vote for more than just white men, but exclusionary laws and voter suppression mean that there are still folks who are left out of the democratic process today. Systemic and structural racism, sexism and ableism all contribute to an unjust democrative process that bears the residue of a voting system that was designed to benefit white men of means.
WHO GETS TO VOTE?
In many ways, having the right to vote is a privilege. Non-citizens (including permanent legal residents), federal inmates, people who used to be federal inmates and U.S. citizens residing in U.S. territories are excluded from some, if not all, elections in this country. And even though federal inmates can’t vote in every state but Vermont and Maine, politicians still use “prison gerrymandering” to make it look like they have more constituents.
Gerrymandering is a key form of voter suppression that’s been used to disenfranchise Black voters in the past, and is thought to have played a key role in the 2016 presidential election. This and many other forms of voter suppression have been used throughout American history, making it harder for millions of people to participate in the democratic process (and making it harder for the U.S. to claim that it is a true democracy).
The 2018 race for Governor in Georgia was so marked by purged voter rolls, reduced polling places and other issues of voter suppression that it prompted investigations by the House Oversight and Reform committee. More recent voter suppression can be seen throughout the 2020 primary elections, including reduced polling places in Kentucky, uncounted mail-in ballots in New York and Wisconsin’s decision to hold in-person voting at the beginning of a pandemic.
Experts are already worried about voter suppression in the 2020 presidential election coming in the form of voter ID laws, reduced polling places and hours and disorganized plans for pandemic voting. Voter suppression shows that American “democracy” and our “right to vote” are nothing more than an idealistic sham to cover the blatant corruption and oppression that has marked this nation’s history from the start. For a deep dive on this topic, read One Person, No Vote by Carol Anderson.
HOW TO VOTE (AND MAKE SURE YOUR VOTE COUNTS)
Register to vote. If you think you are already registered but you aren’t sure (or if you aren’t sure which address you’re registered at), you can text FRIENDS to 26797 to check your voter registration status.
Get familiar with local rules & deadlines for things like voter registration, when to request and postmark your mail-in ballot, and whether anything else is required of you to ensure that your vote gets counted.
If your state allows it, apply for a mail-in ballot so you can exercise your right to vote without risking your health during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Make a plan for voting and put it on the calendar. If you’re mailing in your ballot, decide which day you’ll drop it off at the post office. If you’re going in person, find out your polling place ahead of time, decide what time of day you’ll go, and how you’ll get there. You can also look up COVID protocols, so you feel prepared and safe when it comes time to vote.
If you experience or witness voter suppression, call the Election Protection hotline, 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
PREPARE TO VOTE
Once you’re registered and you have a plan to vote, research who and what is on your ballot so you can informed decisions.
Find out who and what to vote for. You can easily look it up with Ballotpedia’s Sample Ballot tool.
Research candidates. Most candidates have a website that details who they are and what they believe in. This is a great place to get a feel for the candidate and whether they align with your values. Here are a few important questions to ask as you look through a candidate’s website:
What issues do they care about? See what they say on the “policy,” “issues” or “platform” page. Political language can sometimes be misleading or difficult to understand, so it helps to look for specific policies that you support. For example, if you care about the climate, you can look for concrete policy proposals like a carbon tax, a Green New Deal, or taxing fossil fuel corporations. Or if you prioritize social justice, then you can see what the candidate says about funding for police departments vs funding for education, and whether they support abolishing ICE and prisons.
Who are their endorsements from? Most candidates will display endorsements on their website, which is a great place to look and see if they align with your values. If the candidate is endorsed by another politician you like or by a political group that you support, that’s usually a good sign. For example, you can trust that if the Sunrise Movement or 350.org has endorsed them, they are probably going to have good climate policies and support a Green New Deal.
Where does their money come from? Candidates who take large donations from big corporations, lobbyists, and super PACs are more likely to make decisions that benefit their donors instead of their constituents. Looking for candidates who pledge not to take big-donor money is a good way of figuring out who will be truly representative of your needs if they are elected to office. If you want to really examine their campaign finances, all donations and expenditures for federal campaigns can be found on the Federal Elections Commission website.
What does their voting record look like? If the candidate is an incumbent or has held public office before, you can look at the records to see how they’ve voted on particular policies in the past. If their votes usually align with your values, that’s a great sign!
Research policies. In some states, citizens get the chance to vote directly on legislation, often put forth as “ballot measures” or “propositions.” Before you go to vote, it’s a good idea to see if any of these initiatives or referendums will be on your ballot so you can figure out what they mean and how you feel about them ahead of time. Here are some tips:
See if you can find the original language of the policy and read it.
If the policy is too long, complicated or boring to read, look for news reporting on it instead. You can also refer to reputable sources like nonprofits or advocacy groups that align with your values on the subject. Local environmental and social justice groups (or local chapters for national organizations) will often publish blog posts or advertising campaigns to support or oppose important legislation.
GET OUT THE VOTE
Did you know that about 50% of people who are eligible to vote in the U.S. choose not to? As this Politico article explores, there are numerous reasons why people abstain from voting. One of them is that people tend to do what the people around them are doing; “If you are part of a large, loose-knit network of friends, family, co-workers or parishioners who are engaged and people ask if you’ve gone to vote and the election is part of everyday chatter, you’re far more likely to vote than if you are not.”
Here’s how you can help get out the vote in your community:
Talk to people! Ask them their thoughts about the election and whether they are planning to vote. Set calendar alerts for important deadlines so you can remind your friends, family and neighbors to register to vote and make a voting plan. You can put together useful information to share around your neighborhood or on social media, or ask people in your area if they want to go with you to the ballot box.
Volunteer with national organizations like Fair Fight, Common Cause, All On The Line, or Spread The Vote that do on-the-ground work to disseminate voting information, fight for fair voting districts and help prevent voter suppression. These organizations rely on people power to get the work done, so volunteering to make calls or knock on doors can make a big impact.
Support organizations like the ACLU and League of Women Voters who work to protect voting rights in court.
It’s time for America to finally live up to its ideals and allow everyone the right to vote.
The Meow Meow Tweet blog is a collaborative thought project between the founders of Meow Meow Tweet and our editorial team. This post was written by Faye Lesser.