Presbyterian Voting Campaign uses social media to highlight challenges to marginalized communities
by Rich Copley | Presbyterian News Service
LEXINGTON, Kentucky — To many United States citizens, voting has been a fairly easy proposition. They take some time on Election Day to go to a polling place near their home, maybe stand in line for a while, cast their vote and get a sticker.
That’s the way it should be. Right?
But for millions of Americans, voting is not so easy, which is why part of the Presbyterian Voting Campaign has been offering a steady stream of “Did You Know” posts on the church’s social media channels, including Facebook and Instagram, describing challenges many voters face in the U.S., particularly people in marginalized communities.
“This moment is critical because of the two pandemics that are happening in our country, with COVID and the racial uprising,” said the Rev. Shanea D. Leonard, Associate for Gender & Racial Justice in the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. “Folks need to realize that racism continues to happen in covert and overt ways. And one of the ways we really can challenge the status quo is to shed light on injustice. When people in the suburbs see what’s really happening on their televisions, like they did in the civil rights movement and subsequent uprisings, is when people who are directly affected begin to help shift the narrative.”
A “Did You Know” fact the campaign highlights is the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which struck down some major provisions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, one of the civil rights movement’s cornerstone achievements. The 2013 decision ended requirements that states and localities that had previously been found to engage in discriminatory voting practices had to get preclearance from the federal government before changing voting laws.
The ruling had widespread impact, including shutting down more than 1,000 polling locations across the country, many in predominantly Black, poor communities in the South, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. Other changes including enacting voter ID laws, curbing or eliminating early voting, broadly expunging voting rolls, and many other moves have been made since the 2013 ruling, with the largest impact on Black and brown communities.
In 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals struck down new voting laws in North Carolina, including voter ID, that the three-judge panel said “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.”
Leonard, co-founder of the Voting Campaign, said, “The fact is there have been problems with polling places in Florida and Georgia and various states, Wisconsin, where Black and brown voters were disenfranchised because polling places were moved or closed without fair warning, and hundreds of thousands of voters went uncounted in the last presidential election in Milwaukee alone – almost 150,000 Black voters were left out of the election because of various issues around polling places.
“These are issues where, back in the ’50s and ’60s there were poll taxes and grandfather taxes, and they still exist in various ways,” Leonard said. “That’s important for people to know.”
Voter suppression efforts don’t just impact communities of color. Leonard notes the transgender community can face trouble with voter ID laws.
“Let’s say their ID does not match their gender representation when they show up at the poll, which can cause a lot of anxiety for folks, and can inhibit them from voting,” Leonard said. “Since IDs are very important right now, the ability to mail in a ballot and not put themselves in danger of harassment, discrimination or the possibility of being misgendered is an issue no one ever talks about but is critically essential to someone who may be transgender or gender non-conforming.
“How this has revolutionized how the LGBTQIA community has shown up to the polls is very important,” Leonard said. “It’s significant on levels people who are not queer don’t think about.”
One of the more stunning facts the campaign illuminates is how many people could vote in the United States but don’t.
According to the PC(USA)’s “Lift Every Voice: Democracy, Voting Rights, and Electoral Reform” from the PC(USA)’s Advisory Committee on Social Witness Policy, the United States ranks 114th in voter participation in recognized democracies around the world. In recent years, only 55 percent of eligible voters have participated in U.S. presidential elections, while well under half participate in non-presidential elections.
Due to variations in state election laws, such as those pertaining to people convicted of felonies, around 8 million citizens who are ineligible to vote where they live could vote if they lived somewhere else. Universal voting would ensure that 50 million unregistered United States citizens would be eligible to vote on election day.
The Poor People’s Campaign, which gets significant support from Presbyterian leaders, has made activating new voters from marginalized communities the major thrust of its voting effort.
“They’re putting out some really good information, good webinars, good statistics, good guidance that is nonpartisan but also super informative,” Leonard said of the Poor People’s Campaign voting efforts. Leonard also points to local organizations such as the Urban League as prime resources for voter engagement. “When we look at the issues that are directly impacting marginalized communities, and if we vote according to that which really affects our lives as Black and brown voices, it would totally change the landscape,” Leonard said. “There could be motivation to see real change in this country.”
Leonard also appreciates the efforts of pastors to inspire their congregations to vote, noting in particular the Rev. Billy Michael Honor in the Atlanta area as “a Presbyterian pastor getting people registered, getting people engaged, hosting forums and making this election a critical conversation and an important part of people’s dinner tables and their priorities for this season throughout the state of Georgia.”
The bottom line, Leonard said, is people need to vote.
“There’s a lot of rhetoric and myths about how this electoral process will not go well, but I think it’s important to focus on the fact that your vote does count, and more times than I can name, elections have come down to a few votes that have made the crucial difference in a district and an area,” Leonard said.
“We all need to make sure we are exercising our civic right, and that is the work of justice that we’re called to.”
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Categories: Communication, Peace & Justice
Tags: 1965 voting rights act, did you know, facebook, instagram, pew charitable trusts, poor peoples campaign, presbyterian voting campaign, Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries, rev. billy michael honor, rev. shanea d. leonard, shelby county v. holder, transgender community, urban league
Ministries: Compassion, Peace and Justice, Gender, Racial and Intercultural Justice, Communications