Exercise Your Right To Vote by Sean Cardinalli
Since the once-great Voting Rights Act of 1965 was gutted a few years back, the national voting landscape has changed significantly, especially for African Americans, the elderly, the poor, and the disabled. New Mexico appears, cursorily, to be downright progressive this voting cycle, at least as far as voting registration and access. But much work still needs to be done to assure everybody, everywhere can exercise their constitutional right to vote.
The following are some notes on the upcoming election and you can be sure Weekly EQ will keep talking about this powerful right of ours, and how it’s being exercised and repressed, more in the future.
New Mexico Voter Rights
New Mexico’s supreme court recently sided with the League of Women Voters to update 100-year-old language which disparaged those with disabilities and also limited the ability of those with felony convictions to vote. The new provisions encourage felons to register to vote after completing their sentence and prohibit only those considered mentally incompetent from voting.
Emily Kaltenbach of the Drug Policy Alliance noted that “the right to vote is about rehabilitation. It’s about reducing recidivism, it’s about making a person whole again, it’s making them part of their community.”
Taking a closer look at the candidates running for New Mexico’s Secretary of State may give more concern than hope to those reviewing their campaign finance reports. Both Republican Nora Espinoza and Democrat Maggie Toulouse Oliver were reported as being vague as to who’s contributing to their campaigns, though both have been running their campaigns on “transparency.”
“Oilmen, real estate developers, and political operatives have donated thousands of dollars to the candidates.” And so, at least the media is reporting on these political connections and better informing the public on who they’re voting for and who might be affected by their campaign financing, especially in as critical a position as secretary of state, which “oversees the entire election process,” and “assume[s] the role of state government ethics regulator.”
Volunteers Needed at the Polls
In a country where it’s often easier to buy an assault weapon than to vote, it’s good to know some New Mexicans are doing what they can to ensure everyone’s participation in this coming contentious and important national election.
Common Cause New Mexico has been helping certify volunteers to be poll watchers. Although there are a few caveats to filling the position, Common Cause is still looking for additional applicants. According to their website, Common Cause works hard for “election protection and election modernization. After some of the problems experienced in the last elections, [their] coalition of non-profit organizations wants to ensure our voting system is free, fair, and accessible for all New Mexicans.”
Bishop David Cooper of New Hope Full Gospel Baptist Church in Albuquerque is doing something a little different and a little more proactive this year than he and his have done in prior years. He has for years registered voters prior to an election, but now, New Hope has facilitated the training of additional third-party registration agents.
What that means is more “boots on the ground” to go out and not only spread the word to vote, but to help facilitate people’s registration. By the end of last Saturday, New Hope had trained 27 people and dolled out 20 register sheets to each of them, meaning over 500 more people could be signed up to voice their choice in this election cycle. Bishop Cooper is encouraging the agents to “go anywhere, go to fraternities, sororities, beauty shops, barber shops, churches.” Several even went to the State Fair with hats they wore reading “ask me if you need to register to vote.”
The impetus for this new, proactive tactic came from the Bishop seeing how close recent past elections have come and how delicate the balance of the electorate’s participation. He noted in the primaries for this election cycle that “only 9% of Democrats came out,” even considering all the fervor over Bernie Sanders, “and the same for the Republicans.”
So every vote really does seem to matter these days. “I wanted to up my game,” the Bishop says, “I think it’s time,” especially when you consider there are 88 million eligible American voters who are still unregistered.
Protect Your Vote
It’s important that black New Mexicans know their options especially in view of one of the grimmest times in election history for black Americans. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was stripped of its most powerful provisions by the Supreme Court of the land in 2013, so many of those states which were under strict watch by the Act nearly immediately rolled back the politics which had protected the vote for blacks for decades or fought very hard to do so. These battleground states include North Carolina, Georgia, Virginia, and Florida.
Bishop Cooper noted “Suppression of the vote is the most powerful tool a candidate has when someone conflicts with their philosophy, ideas, or plan. Generally, the party which feels weakest in a geographical area, they push the kind of legislation which limits people’s access to vote, etc. Like in certain places in Georgia, not only did you have to have ID, but some additional proof.” The Bishop was astounded but not surprised that this kind of restrictive action is taking place right now in America.
With New Hope, the Bishop is also putting together a plan to get seniors and the physically handicapped to early voting, utilizing church vans, and picking up the elderly from their homes if need be, so that they can avoid the long lines on election day. The church is really pushing early voting for this election cycle.
The stalwart League of Women Voters, part and parcel of election protection and citizen oversight since the late 1940s, has a wealth of information and can answer questions people might have as to their eligibility to vote. They also post a voter guide and some resources to answer questions anyone may have about their voting rights and voting locations, as well as information on the upcoming issues playing out in the November election. Find out more of what they do and how you can help here: www.lwvnm.org
The deadline in New Mexico for registering to vote in the upcoming election is October 11th.
Figure 1.1 — http://www.voterparticipation.org/2015/08/50-years-later-lets-renew-the-voting-rights-act/
Figure 2.1 — http://volusiademocraticparty.org/vote-at-the-polls/
Figure 3.1 — http://www.southerncoalition.org/free-webinar-restore-the-voting-rights-act/
Figure 4.1 — http://billmoyers.com/2015/06/25/congressional-democrats-introduce-ambitious-new-bill-to-restore-the-voting-rights-act/