Our Votes Are Our Voices—And They’re At Risk

A recent study by the Voter Participation Center found that 25.4 million voters who turned out for the 2016 presidential election considered part of the Rising American Electorate (RAE)—unmarried women, millennials and people of color—will not vote in the midterm elections in 2018. The findings are a call to action in the fight against voter suppression laws and gerrymandering.

Michael Fleshman / Creative Commons

The RAE currently make up 59.2 percent of the population. 8.1 million more votes cast by the RAE than other voting blocs made the 2016 presidential election the first in history where they made up the majority—52.6 —of the electorate. The projected 35.1 percent loss of RAE voters in 2018 indicate that the fight to combat voter suppression and ensuring that all citizens are registered to vote is more important than ever before.

Since 2008, voter suppression laws disproportionately targeted at the RAE have been passed all across the U.S.—particularly impacting African American, elderly, disabled and student voters to cast ballots in local, state and national elections. Voter suppression laws have cut early voting times or closed early voting programs, put in place mandatory voter ID policies at the polls and even purged voter rolls.

Voter suppression efforts were exacerbated by the Supreme Court’s decision in 2013 to roll back the protections inherent in the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The Court’s decision in Shelby County v. Holder freed states and municipalities from complying with Sections 4 and 5 of the Act, giving the states where voter suppression efforts were most rampant the opportunity to implement more aggressive policies to fulfill that goal.

The 2016 presidential election was the first since Shelby, and eight of the nine states—Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas and Virginia—that were given the freedom to move forward on changing election laws without federal approval by the decision all went red on election night. The 2016 election is a stark reminder of the silencing effect voter suppression laws have on the most marginalized voices in the political arena, and the recent establishment of the so-called Presidential Advisory on Election Integrity as well as the upcoming SCOTUS decision regarding gerrymandering in Gill v. Whitford will be consequential in our fight to restore and expand voting rights for all.

Advocates have long focused on voter registration and civic participation programs in typically underserved communities as a way to combat voter suppression. The Feminist Majority Foundation’s Feminist Campus program runs the nation’s only student-led voter education and registration initiative aimed at increasing young women’s voter participation. Rock the Vote has spent over two decades working to get young people more engaged in elecotral politicals. Voto Latino and The National Coalition on Black Civic Engagement do community-centered work that mobilizes voters of color in elections at every level.

Ms./CCMC Poll featured in our summer 2016 issue found that 59 percent of women voters under age 30 are feminists, 66 percent of African American women voters are feminists and 71 percent of Latina voters are feminists. These communities are pivotal parts of the RAE being targeted by voter suppression laws across the country, and because of efforts to disenfranchise them they are expected to vote in dramatically lower numbers than they did in the 2016 presidential election.

What’s at stake as we move forward are not only their voices in the political process, but the values feminists fight for every single day.

Micaela Brinsley is an Editorial Intern at Ms. and a rising sophomore at Smith College. Born and raised in Tokyo, Japan, she is a feminist theatre artist, activist and writer with a background in labor and tenants’ rights. Passionate about social justice, she is an avid conversationalist committed to making the world a more just and inclusive place. You can contact her at mbrinsley [at] msmagazine.com.

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