As women of color, we are keenly aware of the fragility of our democracy. One of us grew up in Indian Country and continually works to remedy systemic inequality, while the other was raised in Massachusetts in an earlier civil rights era and employs the tools of law and politics to promote justice. Our shared experiences make clear that equal access to voting for all eligible Americans has not been this imperiled in decades.
More than 400 anti-voting bills have been introduced in statehouses across the country this year alone, with 18 states enacting 30 laws that make it more difficult to vote. To make matters worse, the Supreme Court issued a devastating blow to the landmark Voting Rights Act (VRA), and some in Congress have blocked a comprehensive federal response to protect voters’ access to the polls.
In the midst of these unprecedented voter suppression efforts, many nonprofit and nonpartisan organizations including the Voter Participation Center (VPC) and the Center for Voter Information (CVI) refuse to give in. They have continued the vital work of registering and turning out eligible Americans to vote. The work that voting rights groups around the country do to register, inform, mobilize and turn out the New American Majority — people of color, young people and unmarried women — is an essential antidote to the current attacks on our democracy.
Some key facts: 60% of eligible voters in the U.S. are members of the New American Majority. However, a recent review of census data indicates that 70% of unregistered eligible voters are also members of this New American Majority. In hard numbers, this means that of the 63 million unregistered eligible voters in the US, 44 million are people of color, young people or unmarried women.
These census numbers make clear why some politicians are actively seeking to limit access to voting.
In the 2020 election, VPC and CVI overcame unprecedented challenges to help engage voters from the New American Majority. As a result, they helped 1.6 million people submit voter registration applications during the pandemic and enabled 4.6 million people to apply to safely vote by mail.
Together with many others, VPC and CVI are working to mobilize voters to participate in special elections, off-year elections and midterm elections this year and next. At a moment when barriers to voting are increasing, we know that programs like these — that bring democracy to people’s doors — will make an important difference.
As the new Board Chairs for the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, we are energized and working to empower the New American Majority to get out and vote. While we will do everything we can to get voters to the ballot box or to vote by mail, we can never completely out-organize the current assault on voting and on our democracy.
That’s why VPC and CVI have joined other civic-engagement groups around the country in filing lawsuits to overturn dangerous anti-voter bills, including in Georgia and Kansas. The Georgia law seeks to aggressively fine organizations that work to sign people up to vote by mail, hoping that all vote-by-mail recruitment groups like ours simply close up shop. Likewise, the broad language of the draconian Kansas law would make it impossible for nonpartisan voter groups to engage Kansas voters in vote-by-mail efforts, unless they move their entire operation to Kansas. These dangerous laws must be stopped in their tracks.
It’s clear that we need national standards for access to voting that states must follow. That’s why VPC and CVI are urging Congress to act now and pass the Freedom to Vote Act.
At this turning point for democracy, we encourage everyone who shares our values of wanting all eligible Americans to vote to join the fight for voting rights. We need action from every angle: legal, legislative and the robust registration and turnout of eligible voters. Fighting for our democracy requires all three approaches, and we are committed to taking this comprehensive approach to protect voting for generations to come.
Denise Juneau and Gail Leftwich Kitch are the new board chairs for the Voter Participation Center and the Center for Voter Information, respectively. Denise Juneau is the first Native woman elected to serve as Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Montana, the first Native superintendent in Seattle, and the first “out” LGBTQIA federal candidate in Montana. Gail Leftwich Kitch previously served as the Executive Vice President of Communications and Finance at the Voter Participation Center and was previously Executive Director of By the People.