Removing obstacles to voting needs to be a national priority

Removing obstacles to voting needs to be a national priority
© Stefani Reynolds

Since the midterm election, a few things have become clear:

Yes, we did have a blue wave. A big one, with 39 pick-ups for Democrats in the Houseseven governor’s seats flipped red to blue, and a net gain of 350 state legislative seats.

Media reports of lack of enthusiasm among Latinos prior to Election Day were way off — in fact, Latino turnout increased approximately 174% from 2014.

And, finally, voter suppression doesn’t start or stop on Election Day. In Georgia and Florida, efforts to ensure that all votes are counted were aggressively challenged by the officials in charge of voting systems in those states — both of whom just happened to be Republican candidates in two of the contested races. Talk about the fox guarding the henhouse. The Democratic candidates in both states conceded their races.

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There’s a common thread that runs through these three observations: there is growing movement of voters who support electing more diverse and progressive federal and state officials — and there is an overt effort being made by the Republican establishment to thwart that movement. We are seeing a shift in power from a nearly all-white political party that supported the gutting of the Voting Rights Act to an inclusive party that has made legislation to expand voting rights one of its top priorities for the coming year.

In fighting for restrictive voting practices and against a full counting of votes, Republicans in Georgia and Florida chose short-term political expediency over the long-term health of their state’s electoral process, and they provided a vivid illustration of what likely motivated Democratic voters (including record numbers of people of color and young voters) to turn out in the numbers we saw on Nov. 6.

Despite a glaring lack of evidence, Republicans (including the president) continue to spew falsehoods about voter fraud and rush through the democratic process. Two days after the election, Florida Governor Rick Scott said, “Every Floridian should be concerned there may be rampant fraud happening in Palm Beach and Broward counties… No ragtime [sic] group of liberal activists or lawyers from DC will be allowed to steal this election from the voters in this great state.”

In response to Scott’s request that law enforcement seize and monitor ballots and voting equipment, Judge Jack Tuter said there was no evidence of fraud or irregularities in the vote counting in Broward and Palm Beach.

Meanwhile, in Georgia, Republican gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp declared victory as the Abrams campaign pointed out large-scale voting inconsistencies that shed light on Kemp’s questionable practices as Secretary of State (a position he held until several days after the election), such as deleting inactive voters from registration rolls or consolidating polling locations, resulting in long lines for voters. Additionally, President TrumpDonald John TrumpReturn hope to the Middle East by returning to the Iran Deal Government shutdowns tend to increase government spending 'Full Frontal' gives six-bedroom house to group that works with detained immigrants MORE’s Department of Justice has refused to investigate the claims of Georgian voters who fear and experienced systemic and deliberate voter suppression.

It’s clear that voter suppression is a problem in these two states and beyond. Volunteer poll workers were tasked with deeming what constitutes an “exact signature match,” outdated polling machines broke, polling places were seized into foreclosure, and air conditioning in polling places was off with voters waiting in line for hours.

You have to wonder – why are some elected officials (often, Republicans) so hellbent on adding never-ending hurdles on the American electoral process?

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Maybe it’s because they can see the writing on the wall: The United States is increasingly diverse, and communities that historically haven’t turned out to vote are making their voices heard. Voters, engaged by grassroots organizers and leaders they know and trust in their communities, were energized and ready to vote. Organizations across the nation, including Community Change Action and its national and local partners, reached millions of infrequent voters during the election cycle. With every door-knock, text-message, Facebook ad and phone call, the voters we reached realized the change they want in their own lives can be brought about by political participation.

We cannot let these voters be deterred by efforts to negate or ignore their votes. We need to focus on removing these indirect and direct barriers to voting to make a more equitable, transparent and credible voting system that ensures the legitimacy of each election and allows for all Americans to be confident that their votes are counted.

When that happens, I predict the blue wave will become a tsunami.

Dorian Warren is the president of Community Change Action, a national social justice organization that builds the power and capacity of low-income people, especially low-income people of color, to change the policies and institutions that impact their lives.