After Donald Trump lost the 2020 presidential election, a wave of new state laws created barriers to voting that could have a detrimental impact on the African American community. But activists and political watchers are taking notice and intend on pushing back.
“As long as we have states that are able to suppress votes, we’re going to need to counter the suppressive tactics that are used,” Alex Rias, senior director for equitable justice initiatives at National Urban League, told BET.com.
“Over several generations and 56 years since the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was passed, we should be further along, but the tactics have gotten more strategic and less obvious,” he added.
To address the challenges, BET, the National Urban League, and several other key civil rights organizations partnered for the second National Black Voter Day on September 17.
It will include a series of events focused on voting, civic engagement, economic development, health, education and other issues that are important to the Black community.
A new Congressional Resolution from the Congressional Black Caucus designated the third Friday in September as National Black Voter Day. It notes that “voter suppression continues to disproportionately impact communities of color,” pointing to data from the Center for American Progress showing that Black people report racial discrimination in voting four times more than White people do.
“National Black Voter Day is a grassroots effort to engage Black communities through education, canvassing, organizing, door-to-door leaf footing, power building, social and mainstream media to register, educate and mobilize people to vote and vote continuously,” the resolution states.
It continues: “The U.S. House and Senate recognizes that Black voters are essential to the Democratic experiment, and National Black Voter Day is an opportunity for Black voters to rally their communities to ensure that Black voices are fully represented in the Democratic process.”
National Black Voter Day 2021 arrives against the backdrop of a legislative struggle in Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, which would restore voting rights protections that the U.S. Supreme Court eroded in 2013 with its decision in Shelby County v. Holder.
In August, House Democrats passed the bill, named for the late congressman who was an icon in the Civil Rights Movement, without any Republican support. It faces an uphill battle in the Senate where Democrats appear unable to muster enough votes to pass the legislation ahead of the crucial 2022 midterm elections.
Meanwhile, harkening back to the Jim Crow era, at least 18 GOP-led states have enacted 30 laws that restrict access to the ballot since Trump lost the presidency, according to the Brennan Center.
The sweeping anti-voter measures make it more difficult to vote by imposing rules that restrict voting by mail and early voting, imposing stricter voter ID requirements, and purging voting roles.
National social and racial justice organizer Tiffany Loftin told BET.com that she holds elected Democrats, who have the presidency and majorities in the House and Senate, accountable for protecting access to the ballot for Black people. They have the opportunity to pass voting rights legislation.
“If they sit on their hands, if they point fingers, and they play money in politics, then the next election, not only are people not going to turn out because they can't,” Loftin said, “but they're also going to feel like somebody didn't have their back during the time that they were in office.”
In upcoming election cycles, the army of Black volunteers may decline to knock on doors, participate in phone banks and other campaign activities, she warned.
The question for voting rights advocates is in 2021 and the upcoming midterm, how will they motivate Black people to vote when former President Barack Obama or his political antithesis, Donald Trump, aren’t on the ballot?
Who is on the ballot is important but another key voting turnout motivator is defending access to the ballot to begin with, Rias said.
States like Georgia, Texas and Florida are attempting to reduce nontraditional ways of voting, such as mail-in ballots and early voting, that has become increasingly popular.
“The fact that the attack is happening shows you that folks are motivated to vote in high numbers if they're given nontraditional forms of voting. And there are folks throughout this country who don't want to see that happen. They don't want to see more folks get access,” he explained.
Rias said some of the most insidious efforts to derail democracy include the unlimited challenges of results in Georgia that can leave elections in limbo, as well as emboldening poll watchers to essentially harass voters by recording them on their phones and taking pictures of them.
“That's separate and apart from purging the voter rolls and changing polling places, changing the times and dates where polling is or voting is allowed, changing and limiting the ways and locations where folks can drop off ballots”, he added.
Loftin said she’s been asked several times recently about the need for something like a National Black Voter Day when the nation has already elected a Black president and a woman of color is a vice president.
“Our agenda has never been just about representation,” she stated.
The agenda has been about quality education, good jobs, a woman’s right to choose, a pathway to citizenship for African immigrants, health care, canceling student debt, and ending police brutality and mass incarceration of Black bodies, she explained.
“These are the things that are on our agenda that we are fighting for,” she said. “It’s not about whether a Black person is in office because history shows that we've had Black people in office, white folks in office, Latinos and office, queer folks in office, Native Americans in office, and we still have not been able to meet our agenda.”
Loftin said the Black church remains a focal point in the ongoing struggle for voting rights. This pillar of the Black community is still an institution that registers and educates voters in high numbers, and on Election Day provides transportation to the polls.
At a time when most people turn to social media for information, Loftin and Rias emphasized the importance of following organizations that provide accurate information when the internet is flooded with misinformation targeting Black voters.
They urged people to visit Vote.org. The easy-to-use website checks voter registration status, registers voters, and offers voting information like polling location.