Fourth of July

Fourth of July and Voting Rights

In Blog, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion by She+ Geeks Out

Ahh, 4th of July. The day we celebrate America. Freedom. Patriotism. And this year feels like a particularly special one as many of us are vaccinated and will be able to see and hug our friends and family for the first time in 18 months or more. 

It’s important to remember what this day celebrates. This is the 245th anniversary of the day that the Declaration of Independence was signed. As a refresher, the Declaration of Independence was written to grant only white men who owned property (including enslaved people) the ability to vote. Let’s do a quick rundown of dates signifying when people received (technically at least) the right to vote since 1776:

  • 1860: Non-property-owning white men
  • 1870: African Americans were technically allowed to vote, but were barred from actually doing so until the 1965 Voting Rights Act
  • 1919: Women, but really, white women only
  • 1965: Federal law finally stated that Indigenous people could vote. Prior to then, it was left up to the states.

With this nuanced history in mind, we encourage you to center advocacy and policy change during this holiday. Use this time to reflect on what it means for every citizen to have the right to vote in a free and fair election. 

One way you can help is by reading through and understanding the FOR THE PEOPLE Act and other various state voter bills that are making it harder for many to vote. Below are highlights of what was introduced to the Senate this year, and which failed to get the required 60 votes on party lines:

VOTING RIGHTS

  • Same day voter registration
  • Requires states to allow early voting
  • Automatic registration (think of motor voter registration)
  • Election Day would be a federal holiday
  • Removes states’ ability to purge votes and setting conditions for how to do it
  • Restores voter rights to felons who have completed their sentence
  • Promotes access for those with disabilities
  • Requires sending overseas/military ballots at least 45 days before election
  • Creates a task force to examine voter rights in American territories

ELECTION SECURITY

  • Voters can verify their ballot to make sure errors are corrected before casting
  • Paper ballots would be required to be preserved
  • All voting machines would be required to be manufactured in the U.S.
  • The NSF would gain grants to study and develop accessible ballots, verification systems, and casting mechanisms

CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM

  • Voluntary public financing with a 6:1 small donation match
  • Stricter limitations on foreign lobbying
  • Requires Super PACs and other “dark money” organizations to disclose their donors
  • Supports the overturn of Citizens United, which states that limits on political spending by corporations, labor unions, and other associations are unconstitutional

ETHICS

  • President, VP, and all candidates would be required to disclose their past 10 years of tax returns
  • Eliminates the use of taxpayer money by members of Congress to settle employment discrimination claims 
  • Puts judicial ethics in place for the Supreme Court (which is the only US Court without one)
  • Inaugural committees can’t take money from corporations; would add personal contribution limits; and use would be restricted to inaugural events and charitable contributions

DC STATEHOOD

  • Provides support for DC Statehood (though a separate bill actually took this up and is the FIRST TIME either chamber passed this– Congress in April 2021)

GERRYMANDERING

  • Requires states to use independent commissions to draw congressional district lines
  • Partisan gerrymandering would be prohibited
  • Each commission would be required to have 5 Democrats, 5 Republicans, and 5 Independents. Maps would require a majority vote to be accepted, with at least one vote in support from each party

States have recently passed new voter laws, many designed to make it harder to vote. As of this writing, here are the new voter state laws currently passed, though many are still in process. We’ve highlighted a few (in our mind, restrictive) state voting laws below:

ARIZONA

  • Voters who don’t cast a ballot at least once every two years will have to respond to a government notice to avoid being removed from the list and to continue getting a ballot in the mail 

FLORIDA

  • Voters will have to renew their mail voting application every two years and submit a form of identification
  • With some exceptions, access to drop boxes will be limited to early voting hours, a maximum of 12 hours per day
  • Voters will be limited to dropping off two ballots for non-family members
  • Partisan election observers can have more access to the ballot counting process
  • Prevents behavior ‘with the intent of influencing a voter’, so it will likely be able to bar efforts to provide food and water to people waiting in line to cast in-person ballots

GEORGIA

  • Ballot applications will not be mailed to voters proactively
  • Voters will be required to submit ID with their application to be approved
  • Shortens application process period
  • New restrictions on the use of mail ballot drop boxes
  • Prohibits providing food or water to people waiting in line
  • Secretary of State is no longer the chair of the State Election Board
  • Guaranteed minimum number of ballot drop boxes in each county
  • Provides more resources to address long lines for in-person voting

IOWA

  • Ballot applications will not be mailed to voters proactively
  • Shortens application process period
  • County auditors can face criminal charges if they don’t follow certain procedures in purging voter rolls
  • Early voting period and voting hours on Election Day are shorter
  • Local officials’ discretion in placing drop boxes is curtailed.

In order for the US to move beyond systemic racism, misogyny, and other forms of discrimination, it’s imperitive that everyone is counted and has equitable access to exercise their right to vote. Until a majority of citizens not only have the opportunity and means to vote, but also have those votes counted and heard, we will continue to live in a world that favors the one dominant group. 

On this Independence Day, we hope that you join us in fighting for true independence and freedom for all.