If you have any voting questions or issues when voting on Tuesday, call the Election Protection hotline at 866-OUR-VOTE (866-687-8683). 

This election year is important. It’s probably one of the most important election years we will encounter in our lifetimes – and every citizen should be allowed to participate in choosing not only our national leaders but also determining Alabama’s future. If you watch TV or engage in social media, you will see a hyperfocus on the election in November to elect members to Congress and the President of the United States – but it doesn’t stop there. On August 25, numerous municipalities across the state will hold elections.  These elections will decide the next mayor, city councilperson, and other vital seats that shape local policy, funding, and infrastructure.

As a voting rights advocate, I have seen personally the impact COVID-19 has had on voter engagement and mobilization. It has caused political campaigns and organizations to shift how they would typically interact with voters. It has also highlighted vulnerabilities within state and local government as it relates to producing essential information about the voting process.

Since 2013, there has also been no federal preclearance required for local elections due to the Supreme Court’s ruling of Shelby v. Holder, which stripped the provision from the Voting Rights Act of 1965. With municipal elections being conducted on a local level, it should be paramount that information is accessible for all voters. Upon searching for information on these local elections, there has been no cohesive list of elections for municipalities from any government agency or official. (Note: The ACLU of Alabama has a partial list.

The reason could simply be because of a lack of local resources and/or capabilities to produce the information – or it could be a purposeful obstacle during a time when voters are closely paying attention to the process. Regardless, it poses a barrier to voting rights groups who want to ensure that voters have the information and accessibility needed to vote. Even if reliable broadband service isn’t available in some municipalities, there should still be a means to get information to voters.

COVID-19 has brought to light what so many of us in the voting rights arena have been saying for a long time – that we must work to reform how information is being disseminated to voters and support our local voter registrars and city/town clerks. We have too many voters being left behind due to a lack of information and election accessibility. The uncertainty of being able to vote in a safe and accessible manner is problematic for those casting ballots next Tuesday. 

Even more concerning is the uncertainty of our postal service due to political grandstanding. Many have turned to voting absentee because of the pandemic and have grown significantly concerned about whether their absentee ballot will be received on time. There is also concern about the potential disenfranchisement for voters who do not have access to transportation, have compromising health conditions, and are not aware of updated polling locations or new procedures because the information is not readily accessible.

Voters are frustrated – and when voters become frustrated, they become apathetic and disinterested in the process. Without the usual outreach done by campaigns and organizations within these communities, they will look to local government to provide “bare bones” information like their polling location or list of candidates.  Although we enjoy this type of work to ensure voters are educated, the work should not fall heavily on voting rights groups. It may be too late to get these concerns resolved by next Tuesday, but we have to be ready by November. Our state leaders must work harder to get additional funding and boots on the ground to our cities and towns to ensure all voters can cast their ballots safely and fairly by November 3rd.  

As November approaches, we have to become more aggressive in educating voters now and cover all areas to have the information readily available. This should not be up for debate because the consequences of our elections and democracy are at stake – locally and nationally.

How can we achieve this? 

  • Provide the needed information for voters. A zip code or location in the state should not be an obstacle for a voter to find their polling location or sample ballot. 
  • Push harder for “no-excuse” absentee voting. Although the Secretary of State has lessened the reasons voters need to vote absentee, a voter still has to select a reason. And while many are voting absentee due to COVID-19, there is not a plain-listed reason on the absentee application. A voter may not know they can select “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls” as a reason. You may say the information is at their fingertips, and all they have to do is look it up on the Secretary of State’s website. This is true; however, if a person is not civically astute to know where to look, they may be unclear on how to find the information or they may not have the necessary means to access the information.  
  • Local municipalities can also work to conduct aggressive voter education campaigns to help familiarize people with the voting process and to help prevent common mistakes by the voter as ballots are cast and counted. 
  • Stop purges of registered voters from the voter rolls and remind those impacted by felonies about possibly being eligible to restore their right to vote. 

Voting is a right, not a privilege. State and local governments must honor the 15th and 19th Amendments, and they must keep their constitutional promises in every aspect.

Kynesha Brown is a voting rights advocate and community builder working with a variety of local organizations in Alabama. Follow her at @IamKyneshaB.