The 2020 presidential election was all but settled last week, with key states certifying Joe Biden’s win. Our democracy seems to have prevailed, despite serious attacks on the right to have every vote — and voice — count. But the fight to secure our democratic institutions won’t be over the day the current president leaves office.
Attempts to restrict access to the vote have multiplied in recent years. Democracy demands making voting as uncomplicated and accessible as possible. Yet multiple states have cut back on early voting, imposed onerous requirements for “acceptable” identification, purged voter rolls, gerrymandered districts, closed polling locations, and more.
When Florida’s voters approved a ballot measure reinstating former felons’ voting rights, the state legislature created a new kind of poll tax, by requiring these returning citizens to pay any outstanding court fees or fines before getting to vote. Given the barriers to employment that many formerly incarcerated people face, this law creates an often impossible hurdle to voting.
Recent attacks especially blatant
What we’ve seen in recent weeks has been especially blatant, bringing the murky voter-suppression movement out into the light. Allies of the president have engaged in baldly racist efforts to throw out millions of votes cast by people of color, including in majority-minority cities like Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Detroit. The president has summoned Pennsylvania legislative leaders to the White House, placed calls to members of the Michigan state canvassing board, and even begged Georgia’s governor to order the state legislature to appoint a slate of electors that doesn’t represent the will of the people.
In the United States, the votes of people of color — particularly of Black people and naturalized immigrants — have always been regarded as inherently suspect and subject to control. The president’s claims of widespread voter fraud, focused on cities and states where BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, people of color) votes had greatest impact, fit neatly within this racist history of attacks on full participation in our nation’s civic and economic life. Voter suppression goes hand-in-hand with institutional discrimination like mortgage redlining and attempts to silence the voice of BIPOC workers through union-busting and racist hiring practices.
In the end, racist voter suppression — including the extraordinary attempts we are seeing now to overturn BIPOC votes — is a means to control the economic life of working people, whether BIPOC or white. Efforts to block or limit voting by mail, for instance, harmed seniors of all races. Strict voter ID laws make voting difficult for women who have changed their name and college students who want to vote in the location where they spend most of the year.
Importantly, we all suffer when the needs of the most marginalized communities go unheard. To name just one example: Because caregiving and domestic work have been considered the realm of women, immigrants, and people of color, this vital work has been undervalued and underpaid. Over the past two decades, organizing by domestic workers, immigrant rights groups, and pay equity and paid leave advocates has begun to change the narrative about care and the value of this work. Meanwhile, organizers have been strengthening voter turnout in communities of color to put care-economy advocates in elected office. The balance of power is shifting, tilting toward an economy which benefits all workers — which is why we are seeing a surge in overt attempts to suppress the voices of working people.
Elections open doors to change and signal the direction voters want that change to take. In the 2020 presidential election and in down-ballot races across the country — including Colorado’s historic paid family and medical leave ballot initiative — the majority of voters chose an economy that centers care and values equity. And with the largest voter turnout in the nation’s history, BIPOC voters showed that they will push back against any attempt to silence their voices.
The price of democracy is constant vigilance and we must counter the ongoing attacks on our democratic institutions. We can learn a lot from the powerful work by Stacey Abrams and other organizers of color to mobilize Black, Indigenous, Latinx, Asian American, and immigrant communities to expand access to the vote. This needs to be our fight not just in a presidential election year or at election time, but year-round each year until every citizen’s right to vote is secure and every voice is represented.