Voting and Equity

I just got back from the PolicyLink Equity Summit in Los Angeles. Being surrounded by palm trees and so much talk about equity was like being drunk on jalapeno margaritas for three days.

Before I left I voted; I’ve been ruminating about this voting and equity for several days. Attending the Summit refined my thinking about why elections matter to People of Color and why we need to ensure our votes count.

Every Vote, Every Ballot Matters
PandaButtVotePeople of Color need to take voting seriously. It is an important way for our communities to have our priorities heard, and a say in how we want to live our lives. As a society we have a long way to go to getting equity right in elections. As one speaker at the Summit said “If voting didn’t matter, they wouldn’t be trying to take away your vote.”

Elections and voting are not my everyday thinking, I spend more time thinking about the best banh mi sandwiches and equity in education. What I learned was problems are still prevalent in the election system. A panelist from Common Cause spoke about how an Assemblyperson called her during redistricting and said “I won’t have another f**ing Asian in my district,” she represented an area close to Chinatown in San Francisco, so it’s kinda hard not to have an f**ing Asian in her district. Another speaker told a story about an African American was denied a vote because she was expunged from the voter rolls because her name was the same as someone else, and because there was no same day registration she couldn’t vote. Or in another place during redistricting apartment buildings were split into two separate districts—I’m still scratching my head on that one. These aren’t the stories from the Civil Rights Era, these happened within recent history.

Every vote matters and we need to ensure we are counted. Here are my four take-aways from the Equity Summit around voting:

  • We need to vote—We need to band together and remind people to vote. We need to show up and cast our ballots, we need our ballots counted. Find someone who isn’t registered and hold their hand as they register, then remind them to vote.
  • Remove barriers to voting—We need to understand why People of Color aren’t voting. Is it because of crap-filled policies keeping voters away? We need to call government on their stupid policies that are keeping people from voting. We need to create greater access to voting (more on this later).
  • People of Color on Ballots—To my tribe, my ohana, we need to step up, we need to start getting ourselves elected to public offices. Every elected office from School Board Directors to President is important. Even if we don’t win running for office changes the conversation and puts a different narrative forward. I am so proud of my friends and colleagues who made the leap and ran for office—you are brave, you are speaking truth to power, and we are better because of you.
  • Census—2020 will be the next U.S. Census, and we need to be counted. I learned at the Summit how important the census is to People of Color. It is the one time where everyone in America counts. As the speaker said “It doesn’t matter if you are 1 day old or 100 years old, it doesn’t matter how or why you are here, you count as one.” We need to be counted so we can be seen. Start planning how you’ll reach out and get people into the census count.

Access to Voting
DSCN3414As I mentioned earlier I voted and I am annoyed, I had to stick a stamp on my ballot. I realized my problem is a privilege problem. No one took away my right to vote, I got my ballot, and I can afford the stamp. But I am calling fakequity on the lack of access to cast my ballot without the “stamp-tax.”

If we’re going get communities of color to vote en masse we need to create better access to voting. In King County there are no permanent ballot drop boxes in S Seattle, thus limiting early voting for an area with a high population of People of Color and higher poverty rates. Early voting is important in capturing more ballots. Here are two ideas to capture more votes:

  1. Give people the stamp, Universal Access to Voting: We need to remove barriers to voting and create systems where people purposefully opt-out. If we give people prepaid return envelopes it removes the cost and mobility (getting to a drop box) barriers. We already know from other sectors that prepaid envelopes yield higher returns, why do you think you get so many credit card offers with prepaid envelopes? If we value voting as much as we say we do than it should be fully funded out of general fund taxes or a small fee on something like the cost of getting a driver’s license. It is a small price to pay for a right that impacts all of our lives. I’ll tax myself the cost of a banh mi sandwich for greater equity in voting.
  2. Go Where the People Are, Ballot Boxes Everywhere: One of the simplest ideas in equitable design is you go where people are. On a weekly basis I’m at the library, grocery store, train station, and sandwich deli; we need ballot boxes where we live, work, and play. Now someone is going to say multiple ballot boxes will expose the system to fraud, this is a fakequity argument. Voter fraud, while it still exist, is rare so the argument that this might incite voting fraud shouldn’t trump fair access to voting.

Voting Movement
The final idea is we need a movement around voting. Voting is so important we can’t get complacent and believe that it is another person’s job to encourage communities of color to vote. Maybe we need a hashtag to start the movement: #POCVote or #FakequityVoting.

Go vote.

Posted by Erin

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