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Voter Education: Mail-in Votes

Posted on June 26th, 2020 by

As primary elections continue during the pandemic, there’s been lots of discourse about mail-in voting or absentee voting. We’ve talked about absentee voting before, and how you can request an absentee ballot in Maryland right on the Board of Elections website. I just did it this morning and it took about five minutes to fill out the application. Of course, it may not be easy for everyone to request an absentee ballot as you may need to provide an excuse, you usually need to have a state-issued ID ready to fill out the information, and more. If you are unsure how to request your absentee ballot, visit Vote.org which has a page dedicated to helping people access their absentee ballot.

In this black and white image, an older, white man steps out of a polling booth, which has curtains he's pulling aside for privacy.

Voting in person is still risky, especially as voting sites become more crowded during this important election year. JMM 2012.054.140.041

Voting by mail is slightly different than absentee ballots. When a state or jurisdiction decides to use vote by mail, as Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Utah, and Hawaii do, it means that all 100% of the ballots are mail-in ballots, sent to voters’ addresses. As election officials and leaders grappled with the challenges of voting during COVID-19, some have chosen to do mail-in votes, as Maryland did for the primary election. This quick change in plans did cause some delays and issues, but it allowed voters to safely cast their ballots without overloading polling centers, as other states experienced over the past few weeks.

Outside a bus, two women dressed in nurse uniforms help an older woman get to the bus.

Getting to the polls can be difficult for some people. Here two nurses help a Levindale resident onto a bus that is shuttling people to the polling site during the 1968 election. JMM 1997.134.452

Voting by mail or voting at home as the practice is called in certain states is a reliable and accessible way to vote. Despite accusations that voting by mail leads to a rise in voting fraud, there is no more fraud than there is among in-person ballots, and these instances are easily identified. (In fact, voter fraud is a pretty rare crime overall. You can view the Heritage Foundation’s research on voter fraud to see the numbers they’ve collected of actual convicted instances of voter fraud). Rather, voting by mail has actually led to higher turnout rates, as states with the policy in place have experienced. In this report by America Goes to the Polls, about the 2018 midterm election, they found that the states with vote-by-mail policies had some of the highest turnouts in the country.

Part of this may be due to the accessibility of voting by mail. You don’t need to take time off work, you don’t need to leave your home and fight traffic to get to the polls, you don’t need to wait in line. And these issues that prevent people from voting in person disproportionately affect Black, Indigenous, and Latinx people. So, it makes sense that the states that enacted vote-by-mail had higher rates of cast ballots, as the policy solves many of the problems that people face.

This image shows Fallstaff Middle School cafeteria where a polling site is set up. There are some people sitting at the tables to check in voters and some people signing in to vote.

Low voter turnout in the US is a common problem for each election. The bottom of this photo has the note “Fallstaff Middle School – a scarcity of voters”. A lack of voters can be because of voter suppression, people are unable to access voting places, or due to apathy. JMM 2012.054.140.016

Voting by mail doesn’t directly affect election results either, other than encouraging more people to vote. As evidence, such as the work done by Standford University researchers, voting-by-mail does not actually favor one political party over another. The only change it brings is allowing more accessibility to vote for everyone, raising participation. Well, the other change is that it can actually save voters money, but otherwise, it is a safe and reliable way to vote.

A crowd of people stand outside glass doors and windows. Many of them are knocking against the windows with their hands.

On Tuesday, 6/23, voters in Kentucky were locked out of a polling place, despite waiting in line. They knocked on windows and doors, demanding that the election workers “Open that door.” Eventually, they were allowed to vote by an injunction filed by Democratic Senate candidate Charles booker.

As more states experience issues such as long lines, absentee ballot mix-ups, and limited polling places, all things that cause voter suppression, it’d be worth investing more time and money in reliable and safe ways to vote, especially as the threat of coronavirus is far from over.


 

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Voter Education: Trans Rights Today

Posted on June 19th, 2020 by

Celebrating Pride Month during quarantine and a civil rights uprising feels a little strange. Some folks from the LGBTQ community have even joked that it’s no longer “Pride” month but “Wrath” month, as they rise up to fight police brutality. On Monday, though, there was a reason to celebrate. After years of civil rights groups working to pass national legislation, finally, LGBTQ folks cannot be fired on the basis of their gender identity or sexual orientation.

A white person stands outside the US Supreme Court building. They are wearing a mask and holding a rainbow Pride flag.

“Joseph Fons holding a Pride flag stands in front of the U.S. Supreme Court building after the court ruled that LGBTQ people can not be disciplined or fired based on their sexual orientation.” (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images). From Rolling Stone.

Previously, only 21 states had protections for LGBTQ folks at their workplaces, excluding Georgia and Michigan, where two of the three defendants were from, respectively. Two of the defendants lost their jobs due to their sexuality, leading to one, Gerald Bostock, to lose his medical insurance in the midst of treating his prostate cancer. The third defendant, Aimee Stephens, lost her job after transitioning and living as a woman. Though she passed earlier in the year, her family continued to argue her case, seeking justice for her mistreatment at her work.

An older white woman sitting in a wheel chair is pictured in front of the US Supreme Court building.

Aimee Stephens, pictured outside the SCOTUS building in October when her case first started. Aimee passed away earlier this year before the court made their historic decision. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

This landmark decision will likely have a significant impact on other legislation, as it sets the precedence that discrimination on the basis of “sex” also includes gender identity and sexuality. Even more surprising, is that two of the conservatives Republican-appointed judges, including Trump appointee, Judge Neil Gorsuch, sided with the liberal judges in the court. Of course, there is still a lot of work to do, as this decision follows the President’s announcement to reverse ruling on Obama-created nondiscrimination protections in healthcare, based on gender identity. The current administration is pushing to only protect people based on their “sex”, meaning ciswomen and cismen, not trans or genderqueer people. However, civil rights groups see that Monday’s SCOTUS decision may provide them the precedent to fight these reversals and other places where trans people are discriminated based on their gender identities, such as housing and education.

In the midst of Pride month (or Wrath month if you prefer), it’s important to recognize these historic and high-level decisions being made for the country, as well as the injustices that trans people still face in their daily lives. Especially black trans people. As a part of the Black Lives Matter movement, activists are bringing more attention to the violence that black trans folk face. After the deaths of Riah Milton and Dominique “Rem’mie” Fells, both black trans women, activists worked to organize the Black Trans Lives Matter rally in New York City, to raise awareness of what advocacy groups call an epidemic of violence.  The protest was put on by trans-based support groups who partnered together, not only to mourn the lives of those lost but to also share resources and information. This march was a moment to not only collectively grieve, but to learn how to support black trans people so that they don’t face violence and death. The march was a huge success, with thousands coming out in support, and other marches in support, such as the one in LA, drawing thousands of people as well.

Int his image there is a crowd of people as far as the eye can see, with large buildings int he background. Most of the people are wearing white. Some are carrying signs, one that says "TRANS RIGHTS NOW."

Thousands gathered in NYC to march for Black Trans Lives. Many dressed in white to pay respect to the 1917 NAACP Silent Protest for black rights. Image from CNN.

As all of this is happening, it’s essential, especially for white and straight allies of black folks and LGBTQ folks, to remember that Pride Month came about because of the Stonewall Riots and the work of early, trans, activists of color, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Johnson helped to find the Gay Liberation Front, even as she and Rivera were pushed out of other gay rights organizations because of their gender identities. Despite being ostracized, they continued to help fellow trans people in NYC such as through the Star Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, where they provided housing and other resources to homeless trans youth. The two of them weren’t allowed to participate in the gay pride parade of 1973, because their identity was thought to give the movement “a bad name”. I feel it’s only fitting, during Gay Wrath Month, that thousands showed up in support of black trans women, carrying on Johnson’s legacy as a proud, black, trans woman.

Marsha P Johnson, a black trans woman, and Sylvia Riveria, a Latina trans woman, stand together outside on a street in New York City.

Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, marching in the streets of NYC together. Image from the New-York Historical Society Museum & Library, Women at the Center.

These moments are important to recognize, to sit with, and understand. Learning and remembering these decisions and shifts in policy are a part of being an informed voter. As you watch the changes in our country, think about how leaders are responding, and how they are helping or hurting people. Think about the decisions you support or disagree with and remember that the next time you vote.


 

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Voter Education: Baltimore Election Results

Posted on June 12th, 2020 by

Despite multiple setbacks, election results for Maryland’s primary election have mostly be decided. This election was difficult from the start, as the state decided to hold it mainly via absentee ballot, to help protect people from spreading the coronavirus. With the majority of people voting by mail, results were expected to be delayed, but things only grew more complicated when a misprint was discovered on ballots in District 1. While it only affected a small portion of absentee ballots, the problem further delayed any results for the whole state. However, the voter turnout rate seems to have increased, with at least 35,000 people voting via absentee ballot who had not voted in the last three primaries. Baltimore and Maryland, and indeed many places like Georgia still face voter suppression issues as polling places are limited, especially in predominately black neighborhoods. However, voting by mail was an incredibly popular option this year. Putting the ballot directly into people’s hands makes voting more accessible and immediate, despite the delays that collecting mail-in ballots cause.

An image of two envelopes addressed to the Baltimore City Board of Elections. A logo indicates that this is "Official Election Mail".

In Maryland, absentee ballot envelopes are prepaid, making them even more accessible for voters to send back to their board of elections.

With all this said, the results of some of the closest races in Baltimore, such as city council positions and Mayor, have been officially decided. As of June 10th, Brandon Scott won the Democratic nomination for Mayor, Nick Mosby has been declared the winner of the Democratic race for City Council President, and Bill Henry has won the Democratic nomination for Comptroller. For the most part, in a city where Democrats outrank Republicans significantly, these positions are decided during the primary, though the election in November, where these Democratic candidates face off against their Republican counterparts. For a full list of candidates and winners from the primaries throughout the state, visit the State Board of Elections website.

A picture of Brandon Scott, a black man wearing a suit and tie, standing outside. There are buildings out of focus in the background. The text on the image reads: "From the bottom of my heart: Thank you! Brandon Scott".

Brandon Scott’s Thank You image from his official Twitter account. The mayoral race, in particular, was incredibly close, but Scott eventually won the vote as the absentee ballots were finally tallied.

But where does that leave all of us for November? The upcoming election is still incredibly important, not only as it will decide the presidency, but also because issues of voter suppression and disenfranchisement are only highlighted during this global pandemic. With the very likely possibility that we will see the second wave of coronavirus outbreaks, possibly in the fall, the November elections might be conducted similarly to the primaries. Maryland State Board of Elections may decide to send out absentee ballots to everyone again, with the option to vote in person or drop off ballots at certain sites. However, as we all know so well, nothing is certain and it’s impossible to guess what voting will look like by November. So, it’s important to prepare for anything.

First, voting by mail is a legal and legitimate way to vote. Absentee voting is fairly simple in Maryland, as we discussed in one of our first Voter Education blog posts. You can request an absentee ballot online, as long as you have an MVA ID, or via mail with a printable form. If you’re not from Maryland, research how to request an absentee ballot, as voting by mail may be a very important tool if the coronavirus has not subsided by November. Whether you are part of an at-risk group, live with someone who may be at a higher risk of infection, or you simply want to play it safe, absentee voting is incredibly important in a time of a pandemic, and an important accessibility resource for those who are unable to vote in person regardless of the virus.

People stand in line outside, most of them wearing face masks that cover their noses and mouths. The line of people stretches far into the distance, and it's impossible to see the end.

The lines to vote in Georgia stretched on and on, leaving people to wait for six, seven, eight, or more hours to vote. Image via Bloomberg.

Educate yourself about voter suppression and disenfranchisement. With such a stark example in Georgia this week, learning about and opposing voter suppression is more relevant than ever. We must protect every person’s right to vote, and that starts with raising awareness of the issue. And then, start pressuring lawmakers and boards of elections to change the voting process to make it more accessible and available to everyone. If you want some tips on advocacy, check out our previous blog post to get you started towards making change in the world.

Finally, remember that voting is not the end of your civic duty. Remember how officials are reacting to the uprisings right now, how they are responding to the demands of protestors. Watch your legislators, as they vote on budgets for the city, for police, for education and social services. What change do you want to see in the world? It’s your right to demand that the government works for you, or else the current system will be dismantled; as the Declaration of Independence states:

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”


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