By Ian Morton | Profiles in Advocacy
“Theoretical” comprehensive voting rights, across all genders and races, are a relatively recent and hard-won victory in the United States, which arguably has yet to be fully realized. While we’ve seen bright moments in U.S. history, such as the 19th Amendment giving women access to the vote, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, aimed at removing barriers between black Americans and voting access, there continues to be attempts to suppress voting, especially in underserved communities.
On the bright side, there are ways to fight against this, and for justice! In this month’s “Profiles in Advocacy,” as we head into the 2018 Primary Election on June 5, I wanted to highlight some of the national and local opportunities to support voting access.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU): Founded in 1920, in response to “The Red Scare,” when the fear of Communism in the U.S. began to translate to unwarranted arrests and deportation of individuals suspected of radicalism. Since then, that small group of concerned citizens has grown into an organization boasting more than 1.75 million members, nearly 300 staff attorneys, thousands of volunteer attorneys, and offices throughout the nation. A primary pillar of their efforts center around recent attacks on voter rights, from the 2013 decision to gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act, to the individual state responses to this opportunity to enact voting policies that create barriers for Black, elderly and disabled Americans to exercise their right to vote. (aclu.org)
League of Women Voters (LWV): Around the same time of the ACLU’s formation, there was a rising movement among American women, who had just received the right to vote (nationally) with the ratification of the 19th Amendment in August 1920. This was the first year in which women could vote in every state and, out of the convention of the National American Woman Suffrage Association was born the LWV. Beginning as a national Chicago-based movement in the 1920s, the Depression Era of and onset of World War II impacted the League’s membership and ability to meet centrally. To counter this, the 1930s saw the formation of chapters around the country, of which there are now more than 700, with chapters in every state. Non-partisan in nature, the LWV focuses on fair voting practices, keeping a close eye on “partisan and racial gerrymandering that strips rights away from voters.“ It is worth noting that San Diego County boasts two LWV chapters, one in San Diego and one in North County. (lwv.org)
Alliance San Diego: As we bring our focus local, when seeking a champion for underrepresented voters, one need look no further than Alliance San Diego. Through its Vote For San Diego initiative, created in 2014, Alliance seeks to reach voters who tend not to show up at the polls. From providing web-based information about how to register and where to vote, to canvassers who engage with neighborhoods where voter turnout is low, they advocate for greater representation in every election. In its first decade of existence (2007-2017), Alliance reached more than 95,000 voters from low-voting communities, through calls and visits. (voteforsd.org)
Get Out the Vote: Voting season would not be complete, in my estimation, without the work of the San Diego LGBT Community Center’s Get Out the Vote initiative. It has a volunteer-staffed phone bank in the weeks leading up to the election, as well as opportunities to canvass the neighborhood. For those looking for a meaningful way to engage with the LGBT and ally community, I personally recommend spending a few hours at the phone bank. There is something electric about being in the trenches with our community, and impacting the vital civic opportunity to have our voices heard!
Since its most recent low point in 1996, national voter turnout has spanned between 53 and 64 percent of eligible voters and, with marginalized populations facing the most barriers, it follows that we are not seeing the diversity we cherish at the polls. Engaging in voter engagement can help counter this inequality, and I’m pretty sure you’ll find it satisfying to be a part of the process. As of this column’s release, there are still five opportunities to volunteer with Get Out the Vote at The Center (May 29, May 30, May 31, June 3, and June 4) – look for information at (thecentersd.org) or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Many fought hard for these rights, and it’s easy to forget the sacrifices it took to legislate voter equality. In a world designed to keep us too busy and distracted to engage in the process, you can be a modern-day champion of voter rights, through your volunteer efforts. See you at the polls on June 5!
— Ian Morton has been in San Diego for over 20 years, working in the LGBTQ and HIV fields. He is currently a full-time student and works with the San Diego Black LGBTQ Coalition and the Y.E.S. San Diego LGBTQ Youth Conference. Recommendations for individuals and groups to highlight in Profiles in Advocacy may be emails to email@example.com.