Last week, voting rights, advocates and allies celebrated National Voter Registration Day, a single day dedicated to registering as many eligible voters as possible. Throughout the week, organizers across the country kicked off fall campaigns to register black and brown voters ahead of consequential municipal and statewide elections occurring this year. Increasing evidence shows that these community-led engagement campaigns are making a difference, leading to higher registration rates and increased turnout among voters of color over the last two years. It is imperative we continue to support year-round grassroots efforts to engage voters of color so they can register to vote and build power in their communities.
In Tennessee, the Tennessee Black Voter Project collected 90,000 registration applications ahead of the 2018-midterm elections. The crush of applications overwhelmed state election officials; the state ranked 45th in the nation in terms of voter registration. While the work of the Tennessee Black Voter Project prompted the state legislature to pass restrictive laws around third-party voter registration, the Project had a significant impact. According to U.S. Census data, turnout among Tennessee’s Black voters increased from 31 to 45 percent from 2014 to 2018.
In states like Florida, New Florida Majority, one of Advancement Project National Office’s partner is working diligently to get one million Floridians back on the voting rolls. In 2018, the state overwhelmingly passed Amendment 4, a historic ballot initiative that automatically restores the rights of residents with prior felony convictions. This fall, the organization will fan out to register hundreds of thousands of Floridians who have regained their eligibility and ensure they are able to vote in this year’s municipal elections, and the 2020 presidential election. And because felony disenfranchisement disproportionately impacts Florida’s Black and Brown communities, their online and in-person efforts will make a huge difference in re-enfranchising voters of color.
In Louisiana, organizations like Voices Of The Experienced (VOTE) help Returning Citizens complete the voting rights restoration process. After the Louisiana legislature passed Act 636, a law restoring the voting rights of Returning Citizens, or people who have been formerly incarcerated and have completed probation and parole, VOTE canvassed neighborhoods; hosted voter registration drives; and completed voter education. Their efforts have helped hundreds of Louisiana residents register and regain their right to vote.
It is imperative that we continue to support voter registration efforts because many states are working to criminalize voter registration efforts and/or make voter registration harder for black and brown people. After a dramatic increase in voter registration applications in 2018, Tennessee passed a law fining groups conducting voter registration drives up to $10,000 for submitting incomplete or inaccurate forms. While a federal judge rightfully blocked the law earlier this month, our support for easy, simple and straightforward voter registration is necessary to combat voters suppression measures that have bloomed across the country over the past six years.
Research shows that systemic barriers that make it harder to register and cast a ballot decrease the likelihood of voter participation. It is imperative that voters of color continue to advocate for measures that make voter registration easier and more accessible for all.
Pro-democracy reforms like online registration, pre-registration for 16 and 17 olds, and automatic voter registration reduce barriers to the ballot box. They also increase the likelihood that people of color can build political power through the electoral system and make fundamental change in their communities. Finally, we must encourage our friends, relatives, and colleagues to register today! Our democracy is counting on it.
Judith Browne Dianis is the Executive Director of Advancement Project National Office, a next-generation, multi-racial civil rights organization rooted in the great human rights struggles for equality and justice.