On October 1, with early voting already underway in the 2020 US presidential election, the Brennan Center for Justice and the NYU Law Review co-hosted a two-day virtual symposium, examining current challenges to voting, including obstacles raised by the COVID-19 pandemic that have made it more difficult for poor and minority voters to participate in the election.
Stacey Abrams, former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives and founder of Fair Fight Action, a voting rights organization, delivered opening remarks. Abrams discussed how voting rights have changed since the country’s inception, when women and minority groups were excluded from the vote, and she argued that much must still be done to ensure that all Americans can participate equally in democracy. Voter registration roll purges, felony disenfranchisement, and narrow voting windows at polling sites disproportionally suppress the votes of poor and minority Americans, she said.
“But I do not believe in the permanence of voter suppression,” Abrams said. “I believe that until we name our enemy and shape our work to address that enemy, we will be doomed to repeat these cycles of torpor or cycles of erosion…that cause us to worry whether our democracy can hold.”
In the symposium’s first panel, “Pandemic Politics,” Bonnie and Richard Reiss Professor of Constitutional Law Samuel Issacharoff moderated a discussion between Myrna Pérez, director of voting rights and elections at the Brennan Center; Bernard Fraga, associate professor of political science at Emory University; Rabia Belt, associate professor of law at Stanford University; and Dale Ho, director at the ACLU Voting Rights Project.
Watch video of the discussion here:
The panelists echoed Abrams’s concerns about voter suppression, and agreed that the pandemic has presented additional obstacles. Many Americans have had to decide between voting in crowded in-person polling sites—thus risking exposure to the virus—or voting by mail; however, not all states allow absentee voting without a state-accepted excuse.
Belt, who specializes in disability law, noted that for the 40 million Americans who suffer from a disability, in person voting is often not an option. Belt says she hopes that the great legislative push for a mail-in option becomes a permanent solution for many who struggle to vote in-person.
Pérez noted some reasons for optimism: “About 34 states did not let everybody vote by mail prior to the pandemic, and now we are at about five…. Almost half the states are going to be providing postage for their mail-in ballots when they didn’t used to,” she said. “My hope is that we learn from this experience and make it a point of…constantly committing ourselves to a broad and robust and a participatory and inclusive democracy.”
Posted November 6, 2020