Voting Rights are the Foundation of Black Joy.
Black History Month was an opportunity for all of us to celebrate those in the Black community who have shaped our country for the better. As we honor the past, we must fortify progress and continue to work toward a truly equitable future. Within a democracy, voting is essential to the creation of just systems, but this is only possible when our country views voting rights as an imperative.
This Black History Month, rather than focus on so many of the horrors Black people have endured, Clyde Group instead chose to focus on “Celebrating Black Joy.” So much of that joy comes from the Black community’s intrinsic humanity and the dignity that comes from standing up for it, which includes the ability to vote — the ability to stand up and make one’s voice heard.
However, that right is currently under threat. We need to ask ourselves: What can we do to protect the vote for the Black community and promote sustainable, permanent civil rights protections, during and beyond Black History Month? We have some suggestions and tips for how you can help, but first let’s consider what’s at stake.
Why Voting Matters
Why is voting even more important for BIPOC individuals?
Put simply, elections should represent the will of the people, and when we don’t have that, the outcome is a severely compromised democracy. New research shows that the racial composition of the U.S. electorate is rapidly changing. For example, from 2000 to 2018, the nation’s eligible voter population grew from 193.4 million to 233.7 million, an increase of 40.3 million. Although BIPOC voters accounted for 76% of this growth, this shift is not reflected because of a significant gap in voter turnout between White and BIPOC populations.
Our laws are created and enforced by elected officials. Nearly every important lawmaker in our country attains their office via election. And when BIPOC individuals don’t or can’t vote, it’s less likely that those elected officials will understand the concerns of their communities and the policies they create will not be responsive to the evolving needs of their constituents
The impact of this disconnect can also be acutely felt in many Supreme Court decisions. Even though justices are appointed, they are selected by elected officials. The cases they choose to hear and their rulings have an enormous impact on our country, and often do not reflect the views of the majority of Americans.
The demographic shift in eligible voters needs to show up at the ballot box to ensure there is legislation in place to help BIPOC communities reverse the systemic barriers to generational and community wealth, optimal health, and civil rights. This is where voting accessibility comes in.
A Right Denied
Right now, states like Texas are enforcing new laws requiring voters to have a valid driver's license or state-issued photo ID in order to cast their vote. While that might not seem like a big hurdle to many of us, the cost of securing an ID, the narrow band of acceptable identification and deep mistrust of the government means that minority voters disproportionately lack ID. In fact, 25 percent of voting-age Black Americans do not have a government-issued ID — as they are more likely to live in urban areas where driver’s licenses aren’t needed, among other reasons — compared to just eight percent of White voters.
In recent years, more than 400 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 48 states. That means that across the country one in 16 Black Americans cannot vote due to disenfranchisement laws. These bills erect unnecessary challenges for people to vote, and may be coupled with tactics to intimidate or refuse voters access to polling places. Barriers including voter registration restrictions, imposing arbitrary requirements and harsh penalties on voters who violate these rules, felony disenfranchisement, voter purges, redrawing district lines to specifically exclude BIPOC individuals, and changes in voter ID laws have impeded minority voters from exercising their franchise. This is especially true in Southern states with a history of enforcing policies that are deliberately intended to suppress voting.
The nation’s long history of voter discrimination has left many BIPOC communities uninspired and unmotivated to participate in the political process. However, there is power in numbers and as these communities continue to grow, the widespread participation of minorities could help create a more inclusive and responsive government better equipped to serve the greater good. This will not happen overnight, but there are steps that each of us can take today to ensure that the needs of these communities are heard at the ballot box.
How You Can Help
At Clyde Group, we believe everyone should have an equal opportunity to share their voice and vote because our democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate. Here, we’ve compiled some tips on how you and your company can effectively communicate about the importance of voting rights and raise awareness around this growing threat to democracy.
- Stress the importance of voting in all elections
While there’s often more interest and turnout for general elections, midterms, primaries and local elections play a major role in shaping policies for all communities, including those of color. Despite this, a Poll Research Center report shows that voter turnout regularly drops in midterm elections. This significantly impacts the effectiveness of each presidential term because in recent decades, midterm elections typically result in the sitting president’s party losing seats in Congress.
- Encourage Support of Voting Rights Organizations
On top of communicating the importance of casting a ballot, you can urge your employees to donate to and volunteer at organizations like ACLU and Black Voters Matter. These organizations advocate for policies aimed at expanding voting rights and access, including expanded early voting, resisting voter ID, re-entry restoration of rights, and strengthening the Voting Rights Act. Additionally, they fight to stop anti-voter bills, racially motivated gerrymandering, and attacks on the right to vote nationwide.
- Create Context
Messages are best received when your audience understands the reasoning behind your argument. By explaining why minority voting is more important now than ever before, you can help people understand the current barriers to equally accessible voting and motivate them to find out how they can play their part to help. In the office, you can host learning sessions on disenfranchisement, and out of the office, you can point employees to resources and organizations to engage with in their free time.
With Black History Month behind us, we encourage you to make a year-round commitment to not just increasing awareness of the barriers BIPOC communities face that prevent them from fairly participating in our democracy, but also taking action to protect the franchise for all Americans through your own vote, volunteer efforts, and charitable giving.