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Black History Month Blog Series: Black Women Protecting the Right to Vote
By: Sydney Kovach
Despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, more Americans voted in the 2020 election than ever before, in large part because of the work of Black women mobilizing communities of color. If it weren’t for the work of Black women’s efforts, Georgians would not have voted in record numbers in the Senate runoff election– an election that replaced two sitting Republican Senators with two progressive Democratic candidates in the 2020-21 Georgia state elections. The impact of Black women’s voting activism in the election has significantly altered politics not only in Georgia, but also across the country.
That said, these strides towards improved voter turnout have been met with significant backlash, as alluded to above. Attempts to suppress the right to vote disproportionately target minorities, low-income folks and young people – groups that typically lean left and who voted in record numbers in 2020.
In 2021 alone, 49 state legislatures introduced more than 440 bills with provisions that would restrict voting access if signed into law; at least 19 states successfully passed 34 laws limiting access to voting, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. Not only do these bills make it harder for people to vote, but they also enable partisan actors to interfere with election processes, including rejecting election results entirely.
For example, Georgia’s Gov. Brian Kemp signed SB 202, which restricts access to voting in numerous ways. The law shortens the period voters can request and submit their absentee ballots, narrows identification requirements for voting through an absentee ballot, bans mobile voting, adds restrictions to secure drop boxes, disqualifies out-of-precinct provisional ballots, and reduces early voting in runoff elections. The law also bans volunteers from providing water and snacks to voters, disproportionately those of color, waiting in long lines to cast their vote.
Georgia is not alone; Texas also passed a law that restricts voters’ access to their right to vote. Some of the changes in SB 1 include a ban on drive-thru voting, a ban on 24-hour voting, new regulations for early voting hours, a ban on the distribution of mail-in ballot applications, new identification requirements for voting by mail, and monthly citizenship checks, among other things.
Unfortunately, 2022 is also looking bleak. Legislatures across the country are continuing to consider bills that significantly interfere with Americans’ right to vote. However, Black women are at the forefront of combating these efforts to prevent people of color from voting.
Three key Black women and their voting rights efforts:
“All of it really boils down to the organizing … The way that you win elections is organized power.” – LaTosha Brown
LaTosha Brown is an award winning political organizer, strategist, and philanthropic consultant who advocates for political empowerment, social justice, economic development, and civil rights. LaTosha centers much of her work on confronting Conservatism in the American South, as well as voter suppression, particularly surrounding Black Americans. Focusing on the intersection of racism and sexism, LaTosha is a strong supporter of Black women and girls from a young age.
In 2016 LaTosha co-founded Black Voters Matter, a voting rights group that has been accredited for its work during the 2017 U.S. Senate special election in Alabama and the 2020–21 Georgia state elections. LaTosha has worked for and founded numerous influential non-profit organizations focusing on disaster relief, Black voting rights, and grassroots community development initiatives.
LaTosha has earned numerous awards for her activism, including the 2006 Spirit of Democracy Award; the University of Maryland Baltimore County Louis E. Burnham Award for Human Rights; the 2010 Obama White House Champions of Change award, the 2018 Liberty Bell Award recipient; and the 2020 Hauser Leader, Harvard Kennedy School Center for Public Leadership, among others.
"I stand in solidarity with the Black women and allies across the country in defense of our constitutional right to vote… We have come too far and fought too hard to see everything systematically dismantled and restricted by those who wish to silence us. Be assured that this is just the beginning. This is Our Power, Our Message." - Joyce Beatty
Since 2013, Congresswoman Joyce Beatty has represented Ohio’s 3rd Congressional District. She currently serves on the House Committee on Financial Services – which oversees the financial services industry as well as the work of the Federal Reserve, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission – and is a member of two Subcommittees: Housing and Insurance and Oversight and Investigations.
Before her service in the U.S. House of Representatives, Joyce was a member of the Ohio House of Representatives for five terms. During her tenure, she became the first female Democratic House Leader in Ohio’s history and helped secure funds to help under- and uninsured women access breast and cervical cancer treatment, among other things.
Joyce is a vocal supporter of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Office of Minority and Women Inclusion, which works to increase women’s and minorities’ participation in the financial marketplace. She has also focused much of her work on combatting infant mortality, improving financial literacy and fighting human trafficking.
Committed to making it easier for Americans to vote, Joyce has been a fierce advocate for voting rights for years. During her time in the Ohio legislature, she introduced the Save Voters Act to prohibit states from enacting questionable voter purge tactics to take thousands of eligible voters off voting rolls. She has also sponsored a constitutional amendment to reverse the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case and reduce the influence of money in our elections, supports legislation to update the Voting Rights Act to protect every Americans’ right to vote, and serves as the Deputy Vice Chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus.
On July 15, 2021 Joyce was arrested by U.S. Capitol Police while participating in "Speak Out: Call to Action Day on Capitol Hill," a voting rights protest that included a march inside the Senate Hart Office Building atrium.
"I saw that I could make a difference not only by bringing change to what is for many people a bleak environment, but I knew that I would be able to speak to the experiences that so many people have had here." Park Cannon (Elle Magazine, 2016)
Park Cannon represents Georgia House District 58. While attending public school in Georgia, she witnessed residents in the area with confederate flags and KKK materials – something that had a profound impact on her. After graduating high school, Park attended Chapman University in Orange, CA, an experience that expanded her world view and deepened her desire for social justice. She later graduated from University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill with majors in Linguistics and Hispanic Linguistics and a minor in women’s and gender studies. Immediately after graduation, she worked to promote Black Women’s health and lobbied as a health advocate.
Park decided to run for office in Georgia House District 58 because she believes she represents what the Capitol is lacking. Park’s wide-range of experiences – including growing up in a single parent household shaped by domestic violence, being a queer Black woman with locked hair, having experienced homelessness herself, and living in a middle class multi-generational home – embody the diversity of the district she represents.
In 2021, Park was unlawfully arrested at the Georgia State Capitol for knocking on the Governor’s door while he was signing SB 202, a voter suppression bill into law. Although the charges have been dropped, she continues to support Georgians’ right to vote by ensuring they have equitable access to the ballot and their votes are counted.
Where do we go from here? Five steps to support voting rights:
Verify your existing voter registration or register to vote
As of 2021, only 20 states and Washington, D.C. have implemented same-day registration that allows qualified residents to register to vote and cast a ballot at the same time. 18 states in this group and Washington, D.C., offer Election Day registration, meaning voters can register and vote on Election Day, while Montana and North Carolina allow same-day registration for a portion of the early voting period, but not on Election Day.
Check out this NSCL map to see if your state offers same-day voting:
2. Vote early and often (and do your research)
The pandemic and the 2020 election have both exposed the important role local elected officials play in our everyday lives. Consistently vote for candidates that protect voting rights and align with your values
3. Know your rights and report any problems you may face while voting
Check out this guide from the ACLU that outlines your rights and what you should do to ensure you can exercise your right to vote
For help at the polls, call the non-partisan Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE
4. Demand State and Federal Election Reform
Voice your support for early voting, same-day registration and online voter registration to your elected representatives
5. Become a voting rights volunteer
Work as a voting rights trainer, poll worker, poll monitor or voting changes monitor of state and local voting laws
Become a trained Lawyers’ Committee Ambassador for Democracy by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Volunteer as a NCBCP Foot Soldier for Democracy by emailing email@example.com