Voting should be safe, simple, and exercised by every citizen. But, what happens when it is not?
Pop quiz! When is the 2020 US election?
If you said, Tuesday, November 3rd, ding, ding, ding, you’re right.
I would have also accepted the answer, today, September 18, or any day between September 18 and November 3. Let me explain.
In most states, you can request an absentee ballot today. When your absentee ballot arrives, you can go ahead and vote.
In Minnesota, early, in-person voting starts September 18. You can vote in person at your county election office.
And, some cities and towns offer in-person absentee voting. Check with your city clerk’s office for more information.
So, important question, what’s your plan to vote? When will you vote? How will you vote? How will you get there? Who else will you take with you?
Voter Suppression is Alive and Well
The 15th Amendment was passed in 1870. It says simply that “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
When combined with the 19th Amendment recognizing women’s right to vote, it should be clear that every citizen has the right to vote.
Seems simple, right? But it has never been that simple. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, states put up new barriers to voting from literacy tests to poll taxes.
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 authorized the federal government to enforce the right to vote, but it did not end voter suppression.
For example, voter ID laws disproportionately affect black and brown voters. Nationally, around 25% of Black citizens of voting age lack government-issued photo ID, compared to only 8% of Whites.
Laws that ban ex-felons from voting disproportionately impact Black and Brown voters. One out of every 13 Black votes lost their right to vote because of a felony conviction, compared to one out of every 56 non-Black voters.
How do we protect our right to vote? What steps do we need to take to make sure our vote is counted? What do we do if we encounter problems when we are trying to cast our vote?
Today’s conversation is with Jorge Vasquez, the Director, Power and Democracy Program at Advancement Project National Office. Advancement Project is a next generation, multi-racial civil rights organization. You can find a full transcript of the conversation below.
Learn More About Jorge Vasquez, Advancement Project:
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Full Transcript of the conversation with Jorge Vasquez, Advancement Project:
Hi, I’m Jorge Vasquez, with Advancement Project National Office, the power and democracy director at Advancement Project. The power and democracy program is our democracy initiative which focuses on voting rights, engaging individuals in democracy as it relates to how to go about registering to vote, how elections are done, also includes the census, as well as redistricting and other things.
That is a big order, lots to talk about within that field. You and I talked a little bit beforehand, a little bit about voting rights, and you’ve been sharing with me some things that, as an organization, that Advancement Project has been observing and things that you’ve been thinking about, so what’s happening right now with the vote.
What’s happening right now is that people are eager to vote and some don’t know how they could go about voting. One of the things we did at advancement project with other allies is, we brought a lawsuit in Florida around COVID to ensure that Floridians are able to access the polls. And what that did was in particularly around voting by Mail. It ensured that voters are able to cast their ballots safely, as well as, not have to worry about whether postage is needed. COVID-19 is something that’s real. Not everyone has a post office that’s next to them. Not everyone has access to purchasing a stamp. We want to make sure that all eligible voters are able to participate, and particularly voters of color.
When we look at Black and Brown voters this year, 2020 is the first time that at least 1/3 of all eligible voters are going to be Black, Brown or Asian. Black voters are going to make up over a 30 million eligible voters. Brown voters, traditionally, you know Latino or Hispanic are going to represent 32 million eligible voters and what we see is for the first time we see that, it’s going to be impossible to win an election without engaging these voters.
There are some barriers though, to being able to vote. You mentioned one of them, COVID-19, and the ability to go vote in person. We’ve obviously seen in the news where the mail is slowing down. They’re taking out sorting machines. This is a big important election with 62 million Black and Brown voters on the line here. One of the things I saw the other day was, in the primaries, there were a lot of mail-in ballots that were challenged.
Yeah, so I think that one of the things that people will fail to recognize and that was heightened during these last primaries is that that’s traditionally was done. Absentee ballots and votomatic ballots are traditionally challenged and many times their challenge, just based on someone having a certain surname for Black and Brown community. We’ve seen that when people have an ethnic last name that their votes tend to be to be challenged. One of the ways we’re combating that at Advancement Project National Office is, we’re engaging with six priority states and partners throughout the United States around how to complete a vote by mail ballot because it’s very technical and it varies state by state.
Some states require signatures on an envelope, other states require signatures in certain places and something as simple as forgetting to sign somewhere could make your ballot be invalidated. One of the other things that we’re working to do is educate people on the cure process. Many states have a cure process which allows voters, if your vote is challenged, you have the opportunity to cure that vote.
Let’s say for example, maybe your signature has changed, and they might need enough data signature. First time I got my license, I was as a teenager several decades ago. My signature is not the same, right? Yeah, sometimes I have a hard time making up my own name when I sign.
(laughs) I think as we get older, we get lazier, so we just go faster.
Certainly, and we all can agree something like that shouldn’t prevent you from being able to cast a meaningful vote.
That is an interesting point. In every state the rules are different. The process is different, so I’m sure it’s quite challenging from the Advancement Project National Office to try to coordinate all this mail in ballots. Is that a secure, safe way to run an election.
Absolutely. In fact, we know that there are Republican governors in states that only operate in a mail-in ballot system, and I think the important statistic is that it’s 0.06% chances of fraud. So, certainly, it’s safe and reliable. It’s verifiable. What more verifiable standard can you have than having to look at the piece of paper that the person cast their ballots?
Right. Yeah, it’s probably even more secure than electronic ballots in some ways, right?
Right because you’re not depending on a machine reading something and scanning it. And some places what we saw, some places, including in Florida, what they did this past election cycle was, if you went in person to just drop off your mail-in ballot, they stamped. If you had your ID and you went through like the local rules, they just validated your ballot almost instantly. So that way you didn’t have to worry about taking additional steps or whether or not your ballot was counted, but I think important for listeners to know if you’re casting a ballot in a nontraditional sense or your first time casting a vote-by-mail ballot. Each state, each Board of Elections, Department of Elections has a process to verify that they’ve received your ballot.
Like you said at the beginning of the show, right, prepare. Make that plan. Do it early and if you do it early then you’ll be able to track. Have they received my ballot, and if not then you still have an opportunity to vote on November 3rd, right? And remember it’s always the first Tuesday of November. Because one of the ways that we see a voter suppression sometimes is misinformation. Right, you tell voters we’re changing the date and then now people don’t know, when to vote.
It is interesting that with the COVID-19 and so many people doing their mail-in ballots, people who work in campaigns are telling me, we used to do the get-out-the-vote effort on election day. Now we’re having to run our get out the vote campaign from September through the beginning in November. So, it is important that people if you’re if you’ve requested that ballot, that it comes early. You request it early. You fill it out early. You send it in. And then I know, here in Minnesota I can actually look online and I can put in some key information about me and the Secretary of State’s office will tell me that my ballot was received and accepted. So, most states probably have a similar process, right?
There’s a process like that in many States and one of the programs that we have at advancing project national office is our democratized democracy program, which trains individuals on just that.
Right? Like how do you monitor to make sure your ballot is counted. And, if it’s not counted and you need to go to vote on that election Tuesday, how do you invalidate that cast ballot? That vote in-mail ballot?
One thing that listeners should know is that people aren’t going to be able to vote twice. You’re not going to be able to vote-by-mail and then go and catch the Ballarat elections. That that’s just not going to happen, right?
And one of the ways the systems are insured to do that is that there are steps in place to make sure that you could track who devote a reason, whether they cast the ballot. But it makes sure that no one does stuff like that. There are also processes, so that way, if I put my ballot in the mail and it takes 2 weeks, and now I don’t see it, I’m like, “Oh my God, should I go in in person? What should I do?” This election is important. It’s probably going to be the most important election of our life. You could still go in.
Casting a ballot that Tuesday and at the same time invalidate the mail-in ballad that you previously cast in. So that way it’s not counted, and you don’t have to worry about getting in trouble or anything like that.
Yeah. A person mails in their ballot, and then they’re looking online, and nothing shows up. They don’t find that their ballot has been processed or accepted. They can still go to the polling place on Election Day. But if they do that, it must be really important that they tell the poll worker, or that there’s some process, there at the poll that they say, “I did send in a mail-in ballot but now I want to vote in person instead.”
So, it’s going to vary from state to state. And one thing that we need to remember is that the majority of poll watchers are our seniors, that are new to this idea of technology. New to this idea of early voting in some places. And they’re the most at risk for COVID-19. So, what we’re seeing throughout the nation is that there’s a shortage of poll workers. So, it’s important that individuals who are younger or healthy volunteer to be a poll worker, sign up to be a poll worker, and that if you have any questions, please reach out to us at Advancement Project: AdvancementProject.org. So, that way we could let you know exactly what those states requirements are, because there might be an opportunity where you go in the poll worker may think oh, you voted. You can’t vote now and that’s just wrong. That’s categorically wrong.
We’ve been talking about mailing ballots, but some people are still going to go to the polls.
Well, I saw some time back that the Republicans are training 50,000 poll watchers, right? They’re recruiting and training 50,000 people to go watch at the polls. So as a voter, as I show up at the polls, what are my rights around voting when there are poll watchers hanging around with me?
There are a few things there to unpack. We could have people volunteer to be poll watchers, but what’s not allowed was intimidation and we need to know what rights you have to ensure that no one is intimidating any voter. It doesn’t matter what side of the aisle you want. Everybody should be able, who’s eligible, to vote. So, walk in and cast their ballot, and for that ballot to be as meaningful as the next person’s ballot. And, while the laws vary from state to state, on where people could provide assistance or be at right. Whether some states it is 100 feet from the polls, you need to stand, meaning that, if you are closer to 100 feet or you come in a different way. No one could bother you once you get to a certain line.
You don’t need to tell anybody who you’re voting for. Another thing to realize is that people aren’t allowed to walk into the polls wearing paraphernalia that says vote one way or another. And as we go to 2020 and knowing that there is a call for 50,000 poll watchers from the Republican Party that democracy requires everyone to be involved.
And it’s going to be all of our jobs to be involved this election and make sure that our neighbors are able to cast the meaningful ballot in a peaceful way and not have to worry about being harassed or being questioned.
One of the things that we’re doing at the Advancement Project National Office is also working with leaders in elections to make sure that there’s no intimidation at the polls, making sure that we’re training individuals on what their rights are. Where can you look to at the Voting Rights Act? Where can you look to for that state specific code to let people know what they should be doing or not doing? How do you report something?
But certainly no one should feel intimidated at the polls. An no matter how many, quote, unquote, poll watchers are being sent out there. There are always going to be people who are watching the poll watchers and people who are providing election protection to ensure that whether you’re independent, you’re Democrat or you’re Republican. You’re able to cast your ballot and also no one is going to tolerate targeted intimidation. So, if people are signing up to be poll watchers and their goal was to stop every Black person every Brown person they see and start questioning them or harassing them. You’re going to be violating the law and there’s going to be someone who catches you, and those consequences are not worth it.
Generally speaking, if I am trying to exercise my constitutional right to go to the poll and to cast my ballot and somehow someone is intimidating, they’re interfering. What do you tell people? What should they do?
So, it varies in state to state, but certainly reach out to us at Advancementproject.org. There’s also a hotline 866-OUR-VOTE. So, if you see something at the polls, you could call 866-687-8683 to report something. Whether that’s a long line. Whether that’s a voter intimidation. Whether something went wrong, or something was different. You just have a sense that something is going on.
Also, we’re going to be active online through our social media platforms around election protection. And election protection is something that we do. We team up with other nonpartisan organizations to ensure that voters are protected.
I heard the president say that he wanted law enforcement to be present at the polls. So first of all, can that happen? And second of all, what’s the impact of that?
Law enforcement should not be at the polls. There is no need for law enforcement to be at the polls. We know that specifically in 2020 with Black and Brown voters having the most political power at their hands and knowing that unarmed Black men and women have been shot and or killed at the hands of law enforcement, that this is not the time to have law enforcement involved in our elections.
We also know that electioneering – this idea of going forward and spreading information about a candidate or persuasion about a candidate at the polls within a certain distance is just against the law.
So, we cannot allow law enforcement to suppress the vote. There is current litigation going on throughout the United States. One that comes to mind right now is out of the Eastern District of New York and that case there’s the next direct nexus between voter suppression, and police presence at the polls.
And that because certain communities don’t have the best relationships with law enforcement, that sometimes suppresses the vote.
What listeners need to think about is, if you went to vote and you had law enforcement outside, what would that mean to you in a time when there’s truly a feeling of not having the ability to do anything at the hands of law enforcement, where it seems like qualified immunity is ripping us apart. And you might be going to the polls because you want to see change in law enforcement and now you have a whole bunch of law enforcement. And while he’s not saying where he’s sending law enforcement, I think that we need to also watch where are these law enforcement going? Are they going into communities that are traditionally Black and Brown voters? And what does that mean for those communities?
Let’s open this up a little bit because I know that I’ve been kind of directing questions here, and we’ve been going a direction in sort of the things that I wanted to know about right up front.
Running the power and democracy and thinking about voter rights, what else should we know right now about voting rights and about what’s happening in the world.
So around voting rights, one thing that’s amazing, amazing, amazing is that for the first time in a long time, baby boomers are not going to be the largest voting bloc.
The largest voting block at the polls are going to be first time voters, young voters, Gen Z, and millennials. This is huge because this age group is the first age group in America that’s cognizant of what’s going on in America, that have made concentrated efforts to learn about other cultures, other races. If Gen Z and Millennials go out to the polls and vote with their full voting power, our democracy is likely to be in good hands, and that that’s something to look forward to.
What’s also important to note is that there is no unequivocal rights of vote that’s in our constitution. And I think that’s important to note because we truly need a constitutional amendment to ensure and safeguard that all eligible citizens voting age are able to cast a ballot.
Is there something in Congress right now or some bill that is out there that would propose a constitutional amendment?
There are a few things out there right now. Senator Durbin out of Illinois, who has recently put something out there that we support. But it’s important for everybody to understand that all elections are local and that in order for us to continue as a republic, as a democratic society, it’s imperative that everyone voice their opinions at the poll by casting a vote. And voting should not come with barriers. Every citizen who’s voting age should feel comfortable casting a ballot.
At one point, many states said if you are a felon, if you were ever convicted of a felony, you cannot vote. Many states are now reversing that and allowing voting.
But there are a lot of people I think who are qualified, having had a run in with law enforcement. They thought they were not qualified, but now are qualified to vote. So, any wisdom about that?
Yeah, first no one is their worst mistake. Everyone should be able to participate in our democratic process, and particularly when you think about it from a budgetary standpoint. Much of our resources and money in this country go towards law enforcement. Go towards Corrections. Who better than those closest and most impacted to let us know what’s working or what’s not working? While it does vary from state to state, the majority of individuals who are returning citizens formerly incarcerated justice impact, do have rights to vote. Unfortunately, in some states like Florida, even after the passage of amendment four, we see that hundreds of thousands of voters are being slowed down from voting, and that’s not OK, right?
And one thing that we need to do is educate individuals on what their rights are. I think it’s also important to know what does that do systemically? To a group of people that we now know have been targeted and have been feeders to the prison system.
When we look at things that happened in this country and where we know that someone who is Caucasian versus someone who’s Black or Brown is more likely to serve a custodial sentence, more likely to get a harsher sentence. What that means is, sometimes is that the Black or Brown person gets the harsher sentence. That’s the person who’s deemed ineligible to vote.
And what happens to those people who are parents, who have children, who can’t go to the polls with their kids? Democracy is a learned behavior, and when systemically you attack Black and Brown people through the criminal justice system. What you’re also, doing is, you’re taking away the ability to participate in our democracy. But also, for their children to engage in democracy.
I grew up in a town where many people were formerly incarcerated, my father’s formerly incarcerated, and it took me some time to recognize that voting wasn’t just a feminine thing to do right. My mother would we all go to vote, and I was like, well, why is it that nobody’s father is here, right? And it was just because we lived in the area where many people were formerly incarcerated, and ineligible, deemed ineligible to vote.
And what that did for me as a young boy was, I thought that voting was just something that women did right? Like no one’s father was there. No one’s older brothers were there. It wasn’t a thing that we necessarily talked about. It’s now where I recognized that oh, wow, you know I had to debunk that and recognize that there were things in place that were preventing people like my father from joining the rest of the family. Things from my neighbors from joining the rest of the family.
Jorge, I hear this phrase Right to Restoration. So, what is that?
Rights restoration traditionally refers to individuals who are formerly incarcerated. The rights vary from state to state, whether someone who’s a formerly incarcerated person has the right to vote. And the first thing that could address this is, if we had a constitutional amendment that guaranteed all citizens 18 and over the right to vote. Then there would be an inherent right to vote. But until then there are certain things that people who are formerly incarcerated could do to ensure that they are up to date on what their rights are.
So, some governors have created executive orders that say individuals were on parole probation to cast their vote. Some states have done initiatives to ensure that people who are formally incarcerated, like in Florida. If you paid your fines and fees right now, you could cast the ballot.
There are other states that vary, but one of the things that people should know is that by and large, just because you have a felony conviction does not mean you’re ineligible to vote.
It’s imperative that we recognize that both Republicans and Democrats have individuals who are formerly incarcerated, who should not be denied access to the ballot. simply because of a criminal conviction.
If you were to just say to people who are listening, when it comes to protecting and exercising their voting rights, what’s your call to action for them?
First off, if you’re eligible to vote, you’re a US citizen, you’re going to turn 18 years old before the November election, please register to vote.
Third, get other people to vote too.
We need all eligible voters to cast a ballot this election.
We need to ensure that the voice of the people is heard and understand that no one vote should be deemed more important than another.
We live in a country where were considered equals. And, as equals, we live by the one-person-one-vote rule.
Please make a plan. Prepare to vote.
If you’re going to vote-by-mail, prepare to vote-by-mail.
If you’re going to absentee ballot, prepare for that.
If your state has early voting, vote early.
And if you’re going to vote on Election Day, vote on Election Day.
And if you need assistance in preparing or how to prepare, please contact us at AdvancementProject.org.
So, there’s one call of action. Please, please, please make your plan. Plan to vote.
Jorge, thank you so much for being with us.
Thank you, Tony for having me. It’s a pleasure.