Meet the Momentum believes that through advocacy one person can have a considerable impact on the policy directions of their city, state, and country. This belief stems from the knowledge that contacting your representatives can have a significant impact. As noted in other sections of this website, lawmakers at all levels of government receive constant feedback from constituents on many issues, including police reform. This feedback is critical to understanding public opinion in their district, and this impacts how they vote. Not many constituents contact their lawmakers, especially at the state level, so one person can have an outsized impact. If officials believe not supporting certain police reform measures can impact their chances at re-election, often their support for reform will grow. However, to realize the model of a properly functioning democracy in which lawmakers listen and respond to the actual needs of their constituents, it must be possible to vote them out of office if necessary.
However compelling one person’s advocacy might be on any one policy or issue, there always exist elected officials who will be immovable. In some cases, these officials are not just immovable, they actively work to limit the democratic process. In at least 14 states this year, legislators have already passed restrictive voting laws with additional states considering similar pieces of legislation. These laws making it more difficult to vote have been introduced overwhelmingly by Republican lawmakers. It is also critical to note that laws of this nature disproportionality affect people of color across America. Organizations protecting these rights, challenging new restrictive laws, and advocating for change are going to be more vital than ever.
The recent attacks on our democracy: the Capitol insurrection, voter suppression, and disinformation have all cast doubt on the power of voting and the hope that the democratic process can function properly. While these attacks on voting might be discouraging, there is so much in the past few years which should inspire hope. Since the 2016 election, amidst all of the efforts to make it more difficult to vote, participation has increased dramatically. In the 2018 midterm elections, 53.4% of eligible voters participated, compared to just 41.9% in 2014. In the 2020 presidential election, voter turnout was up 5% compared to 2016 with 67% participation. Voters in that year also broke the record for highest number of ballots ever cast in a U.S. election by casting 158.4 million ballots.
Every year at the local, state, and federal level, elections in the United States are often decided by a fraction of a percentage point. Every vote counts and the easiest and most important thing we can all do is to get registered to vote, if eligible. You can register to vote here: https://vote.gov/.
Beyond doing your part by registering and getting out to vote, it is important to encourage friends and family to vote as well. Reaching out personally to those you know can be one of the best ways to increase voter participation. It is often said that one vote will never change the outcome of any election, however if we all believed this no one would see the incentive to vote at all. Fundamentally, one of the basic tenets of Meet the Momentum is that the collective actions of individuals can have a large impact. We encourage you to reach out to others about registering to vote and participating in the electoral process, no matter how many people. A large number of small actions added together can have a large impact and create change.
Often elections for state lawmakers are not given the attention they deserve however; there are many ways in which voting matters at the state level. One way in which your vote for your state lawmakers can have a large impact is its effect on the process of drawing electoral districts. “State legislatures currently are responsible for drawing congressional districts in 31 states and state legislative districts in 30.” This means state lawmakers can determine which voters select them instead of the voters selecting their representatives, at both the state and federal level, which has dramatic ramifications. The partisan process of drawing districts can stifle voters and entrench the power of one party for years. The redistricting process makes it even more imperative to stay involved and make your voice heard at the state level.
With the reverence for the right to vote and the knowledge of how important elections are at the state level, activists and advocacy organizations on the ground are empowering community members to exercise their rights and have worked tirelessly to safeguard voting rights across the country. From Texas to California and New York, countless groups and individuals have registered voters, changed laws restricting access to the ballot box, and encouraged people to become a part of the decision making process in America. In Texas, one organization MOVE Texas registsed 50,000 new voters in 2020 between the ages of 18 to 30. This organization used grassroots volunteers engaging with young people about the electoral process and signing them up to vote. In California, The California Voter Foundation, has been a pioneering organization fighting for vote by mail and seeking to ensure that voters do not have their mail in ballots rejected unnecessarily. This group in existence for over 20 years has helped improve access to the ballot in CA. In New York, Let New York Vote, a non-partisan organization which seeks to change laws which make it more difficult to vote and push for reforms which expand the franchise has been very successful. In 2019 Let MY Vote Helped in the push to institute early voting in NY for the first time. The organization was also instrumental in the fight to allow New Yorkers to register to vote on the State Board of Elections website, a policy which was instituted in 2021.
However successful these organizations have been over the past few years, they are working against new significant legislative efforts to make it difficult to vote. In Georgia, legislation passed in March places onerous many restrictions which make it more difficult to vote. One such requirement in the law is that voters provide their driver’s license or state identification number along with their date of birth, instead of using signature verification. It is estimated that 200,000 voters in Georgia do not have these forms of identification, and this group is believed to be disproportionately Black. If someone does not have this type of identification they must provide other forms of ID like a utility bill. In Arizona, lawmakers passed a bill in May which would remove all voters from the permanent early voting list who have not voted once in the past two years, creating a so-called active voter list. It is estimated between 100,000 to 200,000 Arizonans will lose their early voting registration under this law. These laws are justified under the guise of protecting the electoral process and preventing voter fraud. In Arizona early voting is used disproportionately by Latinos. And in Texas, Senate Bill (SB) 7, right now under consideration, would limit the hours under which you can cast an early vote from 6am-9pm, would end drive-in voting sites, and ban the practice of sending out absentee voting applications to voters who aren't eligible to vote by mail. Texas SB 7 has been analyzed by voting rights organizations and found to harm the ability for working class people, seniors, diabled persons, young people and students, and disproportionately voters of color from accessing the ballot box. These groups are ones who are only able to vote before 6am and after 9pm and often use drive-in voting options due to a lack of mobility or time to stand in line.
It is important to note that voter fraud is not a large issue at all in the United States. The Brennan Center of Justice found that incident rates of fraud are between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent. Simply put, these new laws are a solution in search of a problem, and they are going to make it unnecessarily more difficult to vote, especially for people of color.
Voting rights impact every issue, and police reform is no exception. The judgment, value, and background of your lawmakers all have an impact on the choices they make and the laws they support. The laws surrounding voting rights, access to the ballot box, and the way in which districts are drawn all contribute to who is elected and how policy is formed. Although the profound challenges and divisions within our society seem daunting, we must all remember the ultimate power we all possess, our vote. When everyone participates, some of the most important and long lasting change can occur. What is at stake is too important to sit on the sidelines.
Below is a list of national organizations dedicated to protecting the right to vote, promoting access to the ballot, and increasing voter participation.
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