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Future Hindsight is a weekly podcast that aims to spark civic engagement through in-depth conversations with citizen changemakers. American democracy is a living, breathing mechanism whose well-being deserves to be cultivated and protected, and now more than ever, the need to be an engaged citizen is critical. We explore how each of us has the power to shape our society and fulfill our shared civic responsibility.

Nov 16, 2019

Protecting our Elections

Most Americans take for granted that our elections will be free and fair. However, this would not be the case without the rigorous efforts of dedicated non-profits, citizens, and volunteers. Organizations like the Lawyers’ Committee work year-round to protect our elections from internal interference using a variety of tools such as a voter hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), digital outreach, physical field programs, and litigation when states enact unfair or discriminatory voting practices. Legitimate elections are the result of passionate citizens and organized civic engagement.

Attacks on Democratic Infrastructure

The Lawyers’ Committee started its Election Protection program in 2002 in order to combat increasing attacks on election infrastructure at national and state levels. The most notable of these attacks was the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder Supreme Court Case, which struck down a key portion of the Voting Rights Act that had required districts with a history of voter discrimination to seek federal authorization for any changes in voting laws or procedures. Since then, 14 states have instituted new voting restrictions, and more than 1,000 polling locations have closed around the country. Restrictions like this make it harder for many to vote, alienating them and corroding the foundation of our democracy.

Restrictions and Interpretations

New laws—like Texas’s former voter ID law that banned student IDs, but allowed concealed carry permits—are not the only way states can suppress voting. Some states simply interpret existing laws in a new way. The National Voter Registration Act contains a list maintenance provision on how to remove voters who have moved or died, which some states have interpreted as a way to aggressively purge voters who still live in the jurisdiction. In Husted v. Philip Randolph Institute, the Supreme Court ruled that Ohio is allowed to purge voters who have not voted in two years and have not responded to a change of residence notice. Election protection challenges voter suppression in new laws as well as unfair interpretations of existing ones. 

Find out more:

Marcia Johnson-Blanco is the co-Director of the Lawyers’ Committee’s Voting Rights Project. She manages the Project’s programmatic and advocacy portfolios, and also leads the Election Protection Program. The program was started in 2002 to combat voter suppression and disenfranchisement, which includes tools such as the voter hotline (866-OUR-VOTE), on-site election protection services, and litigation against discriminatory laws and tactics.

Johnson-Blanco is a widely-recognized voting rights leader, and served as the deputy director of the National Commission on the Voting Rights Act in 2005. She holds degrees from Georgetown and Villanova, and serves as a taskforce co-chair at the US Human Rights Network.

You can follow her on Twitter @mfjblanco, and the Election Protection program @866OURVOTE.