The right to vote is at the very center of democracy, but there are a lot of barriers between a potential voter and the polls. Increasingly, laws that limit voter participation are among these barriers, and there’s a lot of work to do to get those eligible to vote registered, mobilized and out to the polls. Along with civil rights groups and community partners, the AFL-CIO is launching a major push to help people exercise their right to vote.
“We have a lot of work ahead of us, and we’re starting early,” says Arlene Holt-Baker, the executive vice president of the AFL-CIO.
“What we’re facing is a coordinated effort to block the vote,” said NAACP President Benjamin Jealous today. “This is serious. This is about ensuring that voting in this country remains free and fair.” In partnership with the labor movement, the NAACP has been going beyond its usual work of registering voters and getting them to the polls. They’re also putting effort into fighting voter suppression laws by preventing their passage in state legislatures or fighting them in court.
Holt-Baker says that the labor movement is going to devote serious resources—both money and volunteer people-power—to training poll workers, registering new voters, getting lawyers engaged with protecting voters and ensuring that everyone who’s eligible to vote can do so.
The arguments for voter-suppression laws are, as a new Rolling Stone feature today indicates, soundly debunked. But many states—as you can see in this map—will have voter-suppression laws in place this fall. That adds extra burden and cost to running registration drives and to educating people about how and where to vote.
“Voting has become an act of self-defense,” says Clarissa Martinez de Castro of NCLR. The prevalence of voter suppression laws has made it even more crucial to participate and not let powerful interests hold more sway over democracy. We need to think about “voter integrity” in terms of protecting the right to vote and getting more people to the polls, Martinez de Castro says. We can’t have a system, she says, where some voters are “more equal than others”—where seniors, students, people of color or people with limited financial resources have less access to the right to vote.
People like Gil Paar—a Wisconsin veteran whose government-issued military ID wasn’t accepted as valid at the polls—shouldn’t be turned away from exercising their rights. And governors like Florida’s Rick Scott shouldn’t be allowed to tilt the outcomes of elections by mass purges of voters.
These are the challenges that labor and civil rights groups will be fighting against this fall, even as a wave of corporate money goes into misleading ads and lobbying for more voter-suppression laws. As Jealous notes, the best way to fight vote suppression isn’t to give up—it’s to overcome those hurdles, get to the polls and take power back.