Election Day is approaching, which means that we at the Lawyers’ Committee in the San Francisco Bay Area are gearing up our Election Protection efforts again. Election Protection is a nonpartisan volunteer legal effort that is aimed at protecting the vote. We coordinate it every two years, in conjunction with our national office.
I recall when I first joined the Lawyers’ Committee, I thought it was interesting that we used militaristic language to describe Election Protection: recruiting “captains” who “deploy” volunteers out “in the field,” etc…. Over the years, as I’ve learned more about the barriers to voting, those metaphors have come to seem increasingly apt. It’s a true battle to protect the vote these days.
Of course not everyone sees it that way. Chief Justice Roberts, in writing the majority opinion striking down key provisions of the Voting Rights Act, recently implied that discrimination in voting is a thing of the past.
We know better. Earlier this year, we published a report documenting voting rights barriers in California in the 21st century. Examples abound: would-be voters who don’t speak English are still wrongfully denied the right to vote. Disabled voters face challenges in literally accessing polling places. And individuals (disproportionately men of color) with past contact with the criminal justice system are illegally disenfranchised.
That’s not even to touch on the distorting role of money in politics, particularly now that the Supreme Court has ruled that corporations are entitled to pour virtually unlimited money into elections. I was struck by this anew this election cycle when I received multiple calls from a statewide officeholder running for re-election. I had supported this official – very modestly – in the past. On the one hand, it was nice, and I suppose a bit flattering, to get personal calls from a statewide officeholder. But it also really drove home for me how relentless the search for dollars has become these days. Campaign funds are so critical that this State officeholder has to spend time chasing after my measly contribution?
Then there’s vote dilution, a topic for another day, but one that is in many ways as pernicious as Election Day barriers.
Next year marks the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. Has progress been made? Certainly. But we are a long way from where we need to be to truly say there is equal opportunity to vote in this country.
To conclude with our militaristic metaphors, the Lawyers’ Committee and our many volunteers are continuing the fight. Find out more about Election Protection and the other battles we are waging here. And don’t forget to vote!