Know Your Voting Rights

Vote 2020: Start Planning Today

August 18, 2020 — by Genie Harrison for Ms. Magazine

(Read the story below, or here at MsMagazine.com)

Get ready now to vote, make a plan, and stick to it.

On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the 19th Amendment. One hundred years later, the country has its first African American and first South Asian vice presidential candidate in California Senator Kamala Harris.

But this is not a year of celebration; instead we are in crisis, and none of us can afford to sit on our rights. Given gerrymandering, closed polling places, the pandemic, and President Trump’s assault on voting by mail, it is imperative that each of us plan now to ensure that we can vote, and that our votes are counted by November 3.

“Voting and participating in the democratic process are key,” wrote John Lewis, the civil rights and voting rights icon who passed away on July 17. “The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.”

Since the 2010 election, half of the states have passed new restrictions on voting, including voter ID laws, cutbacks to early voting, and closed polling places.

States with higher Black and Brown votership are more likely to restrict voting, and the expense and time needed to obtain an ID often prevents minorities from voting. Claims that these restrictions are needed to prevent voter fraud are, of course, totally baseless and intended only to disenfranchise Black and Brown voters.

Before 2013, the Voting Rights Act (VRA) had been used to overturn voter ID laws in Texas and South Carolina. In 2013, the Supreme Court gutted the VRA by striking down Section 4 of the act, which designated the states required to have their election procedures reviewed by the federal government. The result of this catastrophic decision was a tidal wave of new voter suppression in states with a long history of discrimination, such as Georgia and Texas.

The VRA still exists, but it is now protective on a case-by-case basis only. Instead of states submitting their election procedures for federal preclearance, individual plaintiffs must bring cases to court and bear the burden of proof. Bipartisan legislation to restore the VRA has been stymied for more than a year by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

This year more than ever, every single one of us must make our voices heard. It’s critical that we understand our rights and navigate the system of roadblocks and misinformation erected to undercut and undercount our votes. Start planning your roadmap today to the destination, which is safe and successful voting so that your vote is counted on, not after, November 3.

First and foremost, you must think of November 3 as the last day to vote—not the first. I suggest this plan of action to ensure that your vote is made and counted no later than November 3:

Register now.

States have different registration deadlines and requirements, so know the rules where you live. Check your status at Can I Vote and learn your options at  vote.gov.

Learn your options.

Find out if your state will allow absentee vote-by-mail or early voting. If absentee ballots are an option, request one now. Election day will be too late. Some states require an excuse to justify a request for an absentee vote-by-mail. If yours is one, get your excuse ready and provide it now.

Vote by mail ASAP.

If you are able to vote by mail, do so as soon as you receive your ballot. If you are returning your ballot by mail, take your ballot directly to the post office the day after you receive it. If possible, drop your ballot at a local voter dropbox if your area is providing them, or take your ballot and drop it off in person at your polling place.

Make Election Day plans.

If you choose to vote in person, make sure you know where your polling place is and what forms of identification will be required. If you need transportation, line it up well before election day. Bring extra phone battery backup chargers, food, water, sunscreen, warm clothing, an umbrella, and a chair. Be ready for long lines and a long wait. And DO NOT ABANDON VOTING even if the polls will soon close. Keep your place in line and insist on voting, because you have the right to do so even after the polls officially close.

Know your rights.

You do not need to pass a test or be able to speak English to vote in any state. If you need help at the polls, call the non-partisan Election Protection Hotline:

  • English: 1-866-OUR-VOTE / 1-866-687-8683
  • Spanish: 1-888-VE-Y-VOTA / 1-888-839-8682
  • Arabic: 1-844-YALLA-US / 1-844-925-5287
  • Bengali, Cantonese, Hindi, Urdu, Korean, Mandarin, Tagalog, or Vietnamese: 1-888-274-8683

Women have shaped social justice and welfare norms, and they have voted in larger numbers than men in every presidential election since 1980. But after a full century, women are still underrepresented in the ranks of public office holders, and women’s issues—from maternity leave to equal access to health care—continue to be resisted by many lawmakers. A century after women’s suffrage became law, universal voting is now in the crosshairs of a powerful segment of our government, with President Trump its most visible and vocal opponent.

The power of activated women is immense. White women who voted in 2016 and the women who did not vote significantly impacted the outcome of that election. We cannot afford to rest on our rights, assume voting will be simple, or rely on the process being unimpeded on November 3.

As we did for the Women’s Marches since 2017, we must be prepared and show up en masse. It’s time to activate now—take back your power and make sure your vote counts!


ABOUT 

Genie Harrison represents plaintiffs in employment and sexual abuse cases as lead trial attorney at the Genie Harrison Law Firm in Los Angeles and is the Vice President of Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles. She credits Ms. as a lifeline, during her college years, to the feminist movement; now, she writes about legal and social issues to provoke action. You can contact her at genie@genieharrisonlaw.com.
2020-08-20T10:10:55-07:00
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