Our internal Voter Education team is working hard to ensure RVers are fully prepared to cast their ballots this fall and do their civic duty. They’ve already created several helpful resources, one of which is the article you’re reading right now!
A key part of the voting process is simply ensuring that you’re registered to vote — and more specifically, registered at the correct address. Victoria Lurie, an editor on our MYMOVE team, is here to provide you with a little background on the importance of voter registration, the history of voter suppression, and why local elections are vital to creating change within your immediate community.
PS – Looking for a clearer explanation of your local legislature, how they come into power, and what exactly they do? Click here to view the Voter Ed team’s legislative flow chart.
Voting — and updating your address so your voter registration is valid — is one of the most impactful ways you can fight systemic injustice on both the local and national scale. Properly updating your address and voter registration ensures your ballot counts in every race you decide to cast it. Each and every single vote — yes, yours too! — is vital to creating change, and to truly understand why, we’ll need a quick U.S. history lesson.
Why voting matters
Voting is crucial to social justice movements – like the Black Lives Matter movement – because voting is a right that Black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) have historically been denied and deterred from.
Before we dive into the forward momentum of voting, we have to take a look back; specifically to the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and its ostensibly intentional loophole that ended slavery “except as a punishment for crime.” (You might have already learned about this if you watched Ava Duvernay’s “13th.”)
Following that change, the South incarcerated as many as 200,000 Black people during Reconstruction. They detained Black people for things like unemployment and loitering, thereby creating a mass of human capital that would allow Southern states to continue the practice of slavery under the more-socially-palatable-but-still-totally-slavery institution of convict leasing. While convict leasing was discontinued, mass incarceration of Black and Latino citizens for minor offenses continued under police practices like Stop and Frisk, a policy emboldened by the Clinton Crime Bill of 1994 (a crackdown on American crime that spawned programs which police officers helped design).
If the incarcerated person served their time and were released from prison, their voting rights would be stripped upon reentry to society — a practice that most states still adhere to. As of August 2020, 48 states still don’t permit anyone in prison to cast a ballot (however, 16 of those states do grant automatic voting restoration after the sentence has been served). This type of disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts Black Americans. As of 2018, 33% of the incarcerated people in the American prison industrial complex are Black.
Voter exclusion and suppression
Lack of a criminal record doesn’t inherently mean voting is easier. Disproportionate voter suppression of Black communities first took the form of a poll tax and literacy test that more than a few Americans would struggle to answer correctly even today (take a look). After the 1965 Voter Rights Act removed those roadblocks to democracy, voter suppression just took on a different form. Today, underserved voters are discouraged from the polls by arcane voter ID laws or technological issues. The Atlantic reports that in the 2016 election, 9% of Black voters and 9% of Latinx voters were told they didn’t have the right ID to vote. That number rose to 10% and 11% respectively when it came to being incorrectly told they’d been purged from voter rolls. For comparison, half as many white respondents described being told they’d been purged.
Voter suppression isn’t as archaic as we’d like to think. Black people in southern states had to jump through loopholes just to cast a ballot a full century after the Civil War ended. Lest “century” and “Civil War” undercut how recent this civil rights triumph was, think of it this way: those voting loopholes were abolished only a single generation ago.
To put it in perspective, poll taxes and literacy tests were deemed unconstitutional two and a half years before the first episode of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood” aired. One of the most prominent moments in the fight for Black voting rights – when Martin Luther King Jr. led the march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama – happened the same year that The Beatles’ “Help!” hit #1 on the U.K. album charts.
Voting is a right that a great deal of Americans cannot exercise with ease, even in 2020. If you have a valid ID and no criminal record, one of the most impactful things you can do as an ally of social justice reform – especially one with a clear path to the polls – is vote. Be a megaphone for the cause. Use your ballot to affect change for the people the system has robbed of voices.
Showing up at the polls isn’t just the job of allies. The NAACP is beseeching the Black community to participate in as many elections as they can, even though their voting base is understandably skeptical of the political system and the candidates currently put forth.
How changing your address helps social justice movements
Don’t let a defunct address keep you from participating in democracy. Updating your voter registration with your correct and current address ensures that you’re able to vote in the right district, and that your voter ID and your registration card match.
Change is made on a local level. It’s your mayor who appoints the chief of police. Most states choose sheriffs and your district attorney through elections. If you start investigating and investing in the people running for those positions, you can change your local landscape to be the kind of place where the tenets of Black Lives Matter and other social justice reforms can thrive.
A quick tip: Don’t put off updating your voter registration address. Do it at the same time you file your change-of-address with USPS®. You can cross off both of those to-dos with MYMOVE to ensure that you don’t miss your state’s voter registration deadline.
Down-ballot races that impact social injustice
While it would be a swift fix to tackle social injustices at the head, local and down-ballot elections are a powerful – and often overlooked – catalyst for social change. Tackling systemic inequality starts with tackling that which exists in your town. Spurred by the pandemic and the latest wave of Black Lives Matter protests, it’s the local and state governments which are actually enacting police reform. And those state and local positions were elected in down-ballot races.
Take Gov. Kim Reynolds, who was voted in during Iowa’s 2018 gubernatorial election and who led Iowa to be one of only three state legislatures out of the 21 currently in session to pass a bill restricting police chokeholds. Or the coronavirus evictions that fell to locally elected North Carolina sheriffs departments to execute. On a state scale, Attorneys General, like Mark Herring of Virginia, have the power to introduce legislation like police reform. Some states, like Texas, allow the public to elect judges, who get the ultimate say in upholding justice.
Other positions with the power to craft local legislature and enforcement include:
- Judges – a panel or person who rules ultimately on whether or not or to which degree a law has been broken. Judges in most states are elected. U.S. Supreme Court and appeals judges are appointed by the president.
- Sheriffs – law enforcement officer tasked with solving community problems (evictions, investigations, traffic stops, welfare calls, etc). Jurisdiction often expands to a whole county, whereas police officers are responsible for law enforcement within city limits. Sheriffs are elected, and appoint their own deputy sheriffs.
- Attorneys General – top legal officer of a state or locality, whose job is to enforce state and local laws. If not outright elected by the community, the state attorney general is appointed by the state governor, another elected position.
It’s not enough anymore to go to the polls and wing it. As local and midterm elections arise, remember the above power structure. Take the time to read up on the candidates your locality stands to elect, because the power to enact lasting and impactful social reform is in their hands. But when you step into that voting booth, you exercise your power to change your community for the better.
How to vote by mail
Updating your voter registration address also ensures you get an absentee ballot in the event you need to vote by mail, an option that might be very popular with the specter of COVID-19 hovering over the next round of elections.
Each state has its own rules for absentee voting, but the gist is that you can request an absentee ballot on your state’s election website. If your state rules that COVID-19 is a valid reason to honor an absentee ballot, then you just need to follow the rest of the steps your state has laid out.
Most states will honor voting by mail if you’re disabled, injured, or ill, and will also accept the excuses of business travel or out-of-state schooling as viable. Check out your state’s BOE website for vote-by-mail deadlines.
The bottom line
Changing your address to update your voter registration ensures that you can participate in democracy and shape our nation’s response to social injustice. Even if you feel lukewarm about the candidates, showing up to cast a ballot in your local, state, and national elections is one of the most influential ways citizens can change the course of civil rights in America. Your ballot doesn’t just decide big things like the leader of the free world; it could also impact everything from the national legalization of marijuana to whether or not justice for police brutality and domestic violence is served even in the smallest community.