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How You Can Make Sure Your Vote Counts

Knowledge is power.

Politics

We have a leader who turns a blind eye to racial injustice, face masks and coronavirus testing and thinks it's OK to blind the eyes of peaceful protesters so he can snag a photo op.

I'll walk barefoot across shards of glass and still stand in a line all night to vote him out of office.

Although standing in line all night is a bit of a stretch, more than a few hours has been the norm for 2020 voting so far. In Kentucky's primaries, there were only 200 polling places statewide, down from 3,700 in the 2018 election. But only one polling place was in Jefferson County this past week, where 600,000 of the registered voters live. Half of Black Kentuckians live there, too.

This is classic voter suppression.

Mary Long / Shutterstock

Georgians faced longer lines than usual earlier this month, also. Furthermore, they encountered ballot shortages, which was a whole other issue across many states. Tens of thousands of voters didn't receive the absentee ballots that they requested. And in Maryland, where all registered voters were supposed to have automatically received ballots in the mail, about 160,000 ballots (or roughly 5% of those actually sent out) weren't even delivered, according to CNN.

And Georgia's new voting machine glitches? Those technical issues probably could've been resolved ahead of time through machine testing and volunteer training had 'Rona not forced stay-at-home orders. Experts say these problems only occurred in our predominantly Black communities so that possibly sounds like another case of voter suppression.

Voting rights groups call the most recent primaries a disaster and a sneak-peek into what'll happen in November, particularly in counties where the majority of residents are not white, if these machine glitches and ballot shortage issues aren't fixed. Add to all of that the health officials' predictions of a vicious resurgence of the 'Rona. This pandemic is turning 2020 into pandemonium!

So, how should we prepare? What do we need to do to minimize wait times in line, protect our health and evict the tenant from the DC mansion that sits along Black Lives Matter Plaza? Here's where to start:

Make sure you and your eligible loved ones register to vote online.

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It's a fact that everyone who can vote isn't already registered. New voter registration has declined during the quarantine period. States like Virginia saw 73% fewer registrations in April than it did during the same time in 2016, possibly due to the shutdown of the Department of Motor Vehicles where most residents register to vote. And despite being able to register online, Kentuckian registrations also flatlined in April because door-to-door canvassing and in-person registration booths are much more successful. However, online registration is our best option right now.

If you're a regular of Club Quarantine, then you probably attended #CouchParty 2.0 with When We All Vote, co-chaired by our forever FLOTUS Michelle Obama. The organization reached over 100,000 eligible voters during the virtual registration drive in April. Another resourceful site is Vote.org. Both websites keep the registration process simple. Vote.org says it takes less than two minutes.

It's also best to go ahead and register now even though the deadline for the general election is in October. In case you're a procrastinator, you can get the exact date for your state here. But I repeat: Do it today!

Check your voter registration status. 

Nowadays, anything can happen. We might somehow get purged from the voter roll. Or we may arrive at the polling station only for the volunteer to tell us they can't find our name. The devil is a liar, as my cousin often says. There's a link on the When We All Vote homepage that you can click to be sure you're still set to vote before you get to the polls.

Request a general (presidential) absentee ballot.

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Most states offer this option. Again, some states may even automatically send a general absentee ballot to every registered voter like they did for this year's primaries. (If you live in Washington state, Colorado, Oregon, Utah and Hawaii, then this doesn't apply to you because your states hold all of their elections entirely by mail anyway.)

Currently 28 states and the District of Columbia offer "no-excuse" voting by mail, which means any voter can get an absentee ballot if they ask for one. States with stricter laws, like my home state of Virginia, require voters to provide a valid reason on their application explaining why they can't appear at the polls. You have to choose one from the list and provide proof but don't fret: COVID-19 is still in these streets and counts as a legitimate excuse.

Be mindful of the tight deadlines because you want your vote to count! Some states need to receive the ballots back on Election Day while others accept a postmark. States like Virginia will send ballots out 45 days before the election so try to get it as soon as possible. Check your state's absentee ballot deadlines and requirements here.

Also be mindful of your signature. Now is not the time to get fancy with our swoops, slashes and squiggles if that's not how we signed our driver's license. The last thing we want is for our vote to become a provisional ballot and not be counted because the person who compared the signatures thinks ours is inconsistent.

If you don't receive your absentee ballot in a timely manner, please contact your county registrar or Department of Elections. Don't sit at home and wait like this one couple did during the DC primary and ended up not voting at all. If your ballot still doesn't come in the mail, you'll definitely need to vote in-person.

Consider early voting.

I get it. In-person voting is what we're trying to avoid because how can you realistically stand six feet apart on Election Day? Somebody is going to be breathing on the back of your neck and then asking if you mind that they stand that close to you. Early voting is usually available. With early voting, we have a window of time to choose our candidate before November 3. Check early voting dates for your state here.

Know your voting rights before you go!

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Did you know that there is an "inactive" list of voters? If your name isn't on the regular voter roll and you haven't recently voted, your name could be on the other list. If this is the case, you can still cast a regular ballot in the current election. You can also call the Election Protection Hotline at 866-687-8683.

And did you know that if you're already in line when polls close, then you can still vote? Thankfully, voters at the lone polling place in Jefferson County, KY, knew that when some smart official decided to lock the doors promptly at 6pm. They banged on the windows but apparently candidate Charles Booker had to file an injunction with a judge to reopen the doors until 6:30 pm. I'm telling y'all: Voter suppression is real!

But even if you have to vote on actual Election Day after all, do not get discouraged. Awaken bright and early on November 3 and protect yourself: mask, disposable gloves, a little sanitizer, ID and a basic knowledge of your voting rights. And the minute your thoughts shift to "I can't deal with the corona and crowds today!", picture the current tenant in the DC mansion hunkered down in his bunker issuing tear gas orders for another four years all because we're demanding our right to live. Equally.

We can't deal with that, either, sis.

Check your voter registration status or register to vote today at Vote.org.

Featured image by Shutterstock

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.

Reparations

We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

Featured image by Shutterstock

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