The COVID-19 pandemic is illuminating injustices that have long existed in our society. This crisis underscores the need for a healthy democracy in which oppressed communities have a voice and get their needs met.
We recently spoke with The Atlantic about how our efforts for voter registration may change, but our goal to build political power remains the same. Changes to elections must help all voters, particularly those from traditionally disenfranchised communities. BIPOC folks, students and young people, TLGBQIA+ people, people impacted by incarceration, and people with disabilities need free, accessible, and fair elections.
Learn about how a few State Tables across the network—like in Wisconsin, Nevada, Ohio, Georgia, Montana, and Louisiana—are pushing for electoral justice, mutual aid, and BIPOC political power during this time. And check out some free resources from State Voices National, like these sample talking points and messaging tips for advocating for equitable elections during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Wisconsin: Wisconsin Voices
In Wisconsin, a key battleground state in this year’s presidential election, elected officials used the COVID19 pandemic to further voter suppression and disenfranchisement tactics at the expense of Black lives.
In the days leading up to the election leaders waffled on closing polling sites despite contradicting guidance from the state’s stay-at-home order. They restricted access to early voting sites and same-day registration, and sustained an exclusionary voter ID law. On election day voters in Milwaukee, the state’s largest and majority POC city where 70% of recorded COVID deaths are Black residents, were provided access to 5 polling sites across the county out of the planned 180. Many people felt that the state was telling them that, in order to vote, they had to be put at risk for death.
LitMKE, a partner to Wisconsin Voices, called it an “execution, not an election,” had demanded that the election plans be changed for a while, to no avail. They wrote about the injustice in Teen Vogue.
Wisconsin Voices is also incorporating mutual aid into their civic engagement. Dana Schultz, the Executive Director, says that “mutual aid is key to building a healthy democracy.”
Want to learn more? Follow Wisconsin Voices on Twitter at @WisVoices and on Facebook. #LiberateMKE, a campaign at the table that aims to divest from police in Milwaukee, have also been pushing for an accurate Census count for Black folks in the state, and a healthy and equitable response to COVID-19, and equitable elections. Follow them at @LiberateMKE on Twitter, and on Facebook.
Georgia is a key battleground state this year, and organizers and advocates in the state have been fighting against rampant voter suppression for a long time. This fight has been made more intense with the pandemic. The state has shifted plans for the elections repeatedly, causing confusion. For the last few weeks, ProGeorgia has continuously called on the state to protect voters rights by implementing measures that ensure people have all the information they need about the elections, and can participate and vote safely in the elections.
Some of ProGeorgia’s recommendations include increasing the time to request and return vote by mail ballots, increased voter education, flexibility around how ballots can be collected and returned, and more voter registration opportunities. The table has been tracking the election changes across all the counties in the state to aid in voter education.
ProGeorgia and their partners typically conduct voter registration at in-person events, and with the need for social distancing, they’ve sent their partner organizations tools and trainings so that canvassers can shift to remote organizing. They’ve been doing social media, phone banking, and text banking: some partners have been doing voter education using TikTok!
The table has also been incorporating mutual aid into their civic engagement work. This ranges from ensuring partner grassroots organizers and their communities have food during this crisis, and making sure families have technology needed for their children to attend school while at home.
Nevada: Silver State Voices
In Nevada, the Secretary of State recently announced that they planned to rely on vote-by-mail for the elections. However, vote-by-mail doesn’t work for a lot of people, including people on reservations and tribal lands where mail service is limited. In the past, less than 10% of voters in Nevada have used VBM!
Silver State Voices recently issued a statement pushing the state to explore creative solutions to make sure people can vote in a variety of ways in addition to vote-by-mail.
Recommendations from the table include expanded curbside voting, and strong accommodations for voters with disabilities and voters whose addresses may have changed recently due to the economic impact of the pandemic. Silver State Voices also emphasizes the need for support to be provided in a multitude of languages, in order for elections to truly be equitable.
Silver State Voices has been making a concerted effort to look out for each other. Table partners are working in communities that are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19. So much of the state budget is based on tourism, and the pandemic has caused the unemployment rate to skyrocket and has devastated the economy.
“How do we have a conversation with people about voting when people are fighting to get food on their table?” Emily Zamora, Executive Director of SSV, asks, emphasizing the need for mutual aid in organizing.
Ohio: Ohio Voice
Ohio Voice is no stranger to fighting against oppressive policies and voter suppression. Dozens of organizations from across Ohio came together to create a statement demanding that the Ohio General Assembly take concrete steps to ensure that elections can grow to be more equitable.
The statement urges the General Assembly to make sure all registered voters receive a postage-paid absentee ballot for the Special Elections in August and General Election in November. Additional recommendations in the statement include safe and healthy in-person options, investments in emergency and contingency planning, and increased accessibility for the absentee system.
Want to stay in the know? Follow Ohio Voice on Twitter at @Ohio_Voice, and on Facebook. Some partners to Ohio Voice have also been pushing for the release of incarcerated people in Franklin County. Follow the #FreeThemAll614 campaign on Twitter, @freethemall614.
Montana: Montana Voices
Western Native Voice, partner to Montana Voices, is challenging a law that bans ballot collection in the state. The law effectively bans people from collecting ballots from their family and friends to drop off at ballot boxes, which is a primary way people in Indian Country vote. Many people on reservations don’t have access to mail service and can’t send in their ballot via mail. This lawsuit is growing even more important as the COVID-19 pandemic is pushing the state to rely on options other than in-person voting, like vote-by-mail. Doing only vote-by-mail in MT could disenfranchise up to 15,000 people in the state.
The State Table and partners also push for the need for increased language options for voter education and support. This has always been an important need, and it’s even more necessary now that elections are rapidly changing and people will need support to stay in the know and cast their ballot safely.
Louisiana: Power Coalition for Equity and Justice
Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of the Louisiana Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, speaks truth to power in her op-ed “Voting is a Social Determinant of Health.” Ashley discusses how the public policies and actions pursued by local elected officials are driving factors for negative health outcomes among oppressed communities.
The pandemic has put a spotlight on the institutional failings and of the U.S. healthcare system. We must understand how pre-existing conditions, like structural racism, have deprived Black communities of resources and support for centuries. This year, voting is a way communities can fight for good health and resources by electing leaders that prioritize holistic, people-centered policies.
PCEJ and 20 of their partners released “Roadmap to Recovery: Powerful Policy Demands to Respond to COVID-19” that includes more recommendations for the state to have an equitable response to COVID-19, from jobs to health care to elections. It includes taking care of incarcerated people.
“We’ve got to think about all of the ways in which we allow folks in the state of Louisiana to walk in their full human dignity and actually recover,” says Ashley Shelton, Executive Director of PCEJ.
PCEJ and partners like Voices of the Experienced (VOTE) have been pushing hard for decarceration during this time. VOTE has been leading a lot of this effort, doing actions and putting together demands, and have hosted webinars to hear from organizers about the state of women’s prisons during the pandemic.
Oppressed communities are most impacted by this pandemic. Black folks are being devastated by the virus at disproportionate rates. AAPI communities continue to deal with xenophobia. Data 4 Black Lives has compiled a list of states that have shared data about COVID-19 by race, and those who have not.
Voting is an important tactic for building power and demanding equity during this time. We must hold elected officials accountable for delivering the resources and support our communities need in this time of crisis. States must make sure that elections are equitable.
Whether you are hosting actions outside of jails and prisons, encouraging your community to complete the census, providing mutual aid to your neighbors, or helping people get registered to vote, thank you for what you do to help create a more equitable and free world.
—Jordan N. DeLoach, Director of Communications, State Voices