While around 25 states have increased voter access, the worry lies in the fact that the restrictions exist in states where voter turnout is most critical. Those affected by these laws live in highly racially and politically divided areas that pose high stakes during elections, meaning that every vote matters all the more. Texas, Georgia, Arizona, Florida and Iowa are among the 19 states having passed voter restriction laws in the last year. And it is those exact states – often referred to as swing-states or battleground states that can decide entire elections because of the winner-takes-all electoral system – where these extremely thin margins during voter turnouts have drastic consequences. A Californian who can vote by mail in a state that always votes Democrat, lives a different political reality to an inner-city swing-state resident who needs either a passport or driver’s license, cannot vote by mail, and cannot take off work on Election Day.
Bailey, who grew up in Alabama and is no stranger to the racial and political divide in the United States, expressed her disbelief of these recent attempts to hinder votes: “I never saw anything like this where you are trying to legally disenfranchise someone. I couldn’t have imagined that 25 years ago,” she said.
The laws also transcend the obvious moves like requiring a driver’s license or blocking mail-in voting. In Georgia for example, you can now be criminally charged for providing water or snacks to people waiting in line to vote. In Iowa and Kansas, you can face punishment for assisting people with disabilities to vote.
Since the bills failed in the Senate, what now? Aside from civil disobedience, countless organizations are revving their engines. Black Voters Matter, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, People for the American Way, American Civil Liberties Union, Democracy Works, and the League of Women Voters, to name a few, are busy with grassroots engagement: From raising awareness, providing education on registering to vote, to ensuring that votes are counted fairly. Voting and campaigning in small local elections is also crucial, because they decide who handles ballots and manages election results.
Senfronia Thompson, dean of the Texas House Delegation who has been a House Representative since 1972 gave a speech in Virginia on voting rights last summer. “If we can go to Iraq, and American soldiers, black, brown white and all, can spill their blood in a country to give those people the right to vote in their democracy,” she said, “and then come home to America and be denied the right to vote, what does that say about us?” Bailey, who stood in the crowd said she will always remember Thompson belting with a lump in her throat: “What’s it going to take for us to be Americans in this country?”