Standing Up for the Freedom to Vote

June 23, 2021

In 2020, we saw a record number of voters turnout for a presidential election, and rather than celebrate the historic levels of civic engagement states across the country responded by leveling attacks that would turn back the clock on voter access. The increase in voter turnout was a result of voting rights organizers who worked hard to mobilize people by arming them with the information that they needed to find their voting site and how to navigate the voting process. If we hope to build on the momentum and thwart the attacks on our democratic values, then we must continue to listen and support the organizers who continue this vital work day in and day out. Today, we are highlighting two 2021 Communications Institute Fellows who are doing the work to make sure that Black and Latinx voters can be heard in future elections.

Challenging Multi-State Efforts Suppress Voting Rights

Sixty years ago, freedom riders rode buses to fight segregation. Today, activists are going on the road again to fight voter suppression. Venkayla Haynes, Digital Communications Manager for Black Voters Matter, is part of this collective effort to shine a spotlight on state bills that are trying to diminish the voting power of Black voters across the southern United States. This powerful action is bringing together a movement to push back on concerted efforts to diminish the electoral power of Black voters; you can watch the launch video here. #FreedomRides2021 started on June 18th in Louisiana and since that time the bus has traveled through Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina and today you can find the bus in Charleston West Virginia! You can learn more about the bus tour here and either join them along the tour route or in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, June 26. On top of bringing attention to the restrictive voting rights laws, this mobilization is also building an affirmative vision of civic engagement that allows for BIPOC communities to demonstrate collective action beyond the election cycle.

In the 1960s Freedom Riders traveled from Washington D.C. to the South in order to fight against segregated bus terminals. Now we are doing a reverse Freedom Ride, traveling from the South to Washington D.C., to continue to bring awareness to voting rights. In 2020, we saw record breaking Black voter turnout in key states, now we see many voter suppression bills being introduced in those same states. That is why we are hitting the road to D.C. to call for the passage of HR1/S1, HR4, and advocate for D.C. Statehood. Along the way, we are honoring the Original Freedom Riders. If it wasn't for them, our work would not be possible. We're all about spreading love and building power in our communities and we believe voting is a necessary tool to do that so we must make sure our access to the ballot is protected.

- Venkayla Haynes, Digital Communications Manager, Black Voters Matter

Florida in Focus – Combating Voter Suppression

After looking at the big picture of multi-state efforts to diminish electoral power of BIPOC communities, we are now focusing more specifically on how activists in Florida are challenging restrictive voting laws. On May 6th, Governor DeSantis signed SB90 into law, a bill that constructs more barriers for voters. Ricardo Negron-Almodovar, Florida Campaign Manager for All Voting is Local, is one of the many activists who are pushing back. As the new restrictive voting law goes into effect, there has been a lot of confusion about how people can still engage in the electoral process and it is because of this that Ricardo and his team are looking at three forms of engagement to help inform and clarify the rights of voters:

1. This voter education document was developed to help highlight exactly how SB90 is impacting Florida Voters and what voters can do to protect their rights.

2. A list of recommendations was sent to the Supervisor of Elections to help mitigate voter disenfranchisement that will likely result from SB90.

3. A series of training sessions to help 3rd party voter registration organizations understand how the new law impact their efforts to register voters.

The examples detailed above are just a few of the many ways that Florida organizers are seeking to build stronger voting rights awareness in the wake of these restrictive voting rights laws.

SB 90 and similar laws across the United States threaten our freedom to vote by creating barriers that significantly limit voters’ access to the ballot box. These laws will inevitably cause confusion and lead to the disenfranchisement of voting communities that are often left behind. It’s important that we keep voters informed as we work together with election officials to ensure voters are not severely affected by the implementation of new regulations.

- Ricardo Negron-Almodovar