Voting Rights Guide To Building Power in Marginalized Communities

The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law's policy specialist Fred McBride
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Photo: Lawyers' Committee

The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law's policy specialist Fred McBride (above) in the following article articulates about the importance of communities continuing the fight for voting rights amid the onslaught of voter suppression measures since the 2020 Election.

Just a short time ago, we were watching the trial of former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin when Daunte Wright, another Black Man, was fatally shot by police just 14 miles away from where George Floyd was killed. Amid the continued protests over injustice, our freedom to peacefully assemble must translate to community empowerment in all areas of public life.

Voting rights is one area where communities can amplify their voice before and after every election. Whether a particular passion is pushing back against voter suppression laws, criminal justice reform, addressing systemic poverty and inequality, the COVID-19 crisis, or a number of other issues – community organizing and advocacy is what drives public policy. We know the power of voting, but do we really know the power we have even before casting ballots?

Activists and community groups around the country are addressing the 361 and counting, voter suppression bills proposed in 47 states, some of which have already been adopted, by continuing to hold voter registration drives and voter education events. To add, in this current age of virtual meetings these same groups and individuals are hosting town halls and seminars to learn the redistricting process and participate in public redistricting hearings to advocate for a fair and transparent process in drawing election districts.

The power in the vote involves much more than only exercising that right. Communities can impact elections beyond Election Day by advocating for fair election districts, continuing to support fair representation voting methods and state laws or constitutional amendments to counter partisan gerrymandering, and promoting additional methods of voting like no-excuse absentee ballots, extended early voting periods and weekend voting, and helping stop the narrative about a rare and virtually nonexistent threat – election illegalities.

Advances in technology have placed some elements of redistricting in the hands and laptops of people who want to do more to promote fair redistricting plans. A number of open-source mapping applications like Districtr, Dave’s Redistricting App, and District Builder are free downloadable programs that can assist individuals interested in drawing overall federal and state redistricting plans, or their own districts in respective jurisdictions. These resources also enable people to draw their particular communities so that they can advocate on behalf of their neighbors and in the interests of said communities, e.g., farmers, college students, industrial areas, transportation networks, to name a few.

How election districts are drawn is a major contributor to who gets elected. Communities know this fact and are addressing redistricting as we await the redistricting data files release by Sept. 30, 2021. There is time to attend seminars, learn about drawing plans and communities, and utilize data tools available to add demographic and consumer data to assist in defining and describing communities: the Redistricting Data Hub, Princeton Gerrymandering Group, and others have saved demographers and advocates critical time by making data readily accessible. However, it is important that activists, community groups, and any concerned citizen work with, or at least speak to redistricting experts on laws, guidelines, and public submission before advocating their specific plan.

The Derek Chauvin trial is just one of the many that we painfully waited for and reviewed in pursuit of justice. However, when you watch the community protests know that not only are the participants in these protests peacefully highlighting the atrocities committed against persons of color, but many of them will also be on Zoom calls and inside public spaces asking: “If we can get hundreds of people to peacefully assemble here and elsewhere, then what else can we do?”

You are already doing it, just urge others: attend that voting rights seminar, draw and learn more about your community, draw your election district with some guidance from experts, attend those redistricting hearings and sign-up to speak on your community, and always… vote.

Fred McBride is a redistricting and voting rights policy specialist with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

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