Every year, advocates spend untold sums of money encouraging Americans to register and vote. Outreach material to voters often includes references to the sacrifices our ancestors made so that future generations could vote. Mailers, door knockers and other literature also reference how bad things will become if voters stay home. Voters know this and typically respond in kind. But what happens when elected officials manipulate the rules to subvert the will of the people?
That is what we see with the redistricting process. Redistricting determines how many leaders represent a given community and the allocation of critical resources. When done correctly and impartially, voters have a real shot at electing leaders they believe align with their values. When done with partisanship or racial bias, elected leaders identify and select their voters, not the other way around.
Unfortunately, in Florida, Ohio, and numerous other states, the redistricting process has been such that power has been taken away from voters and situated in the hands of elected officials, far-right conservative ones at that. If more isn’t done to level the playing field so voters have a reasonable chance of making their voices heard, America will look less like a democracy and more like a dictatorship.
According to Open Secrets, “victorious Senate candidates spent an average of $15.7 million in 2018, while the average winning House candidate shelled out just over $2 million on average that year.” Increasingly, elections appear to be a sport where only the wealthy can participate.
Sadly, people with limited social and financial capital have difficulty electing candidates of choice. A host of laws have been enacted to limit who can vote, when they can vote and how they vote. The Brennan Center for Justice noted that in 2021, “more than 440 bills with provisions that restrict voting access have been introduced in 49 states in the 2021 legislative sessions.” What’s more, all of this had happened at a time when southern states no longer had to pre-clear voting changes since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013.
Most people understand voting to be the cornerstone upon which every other liberty rests. But many people do not appreciate the degree to which our lives are being steadily eroded due to attacks on voting. In other words, every liberty we enjoy—or should enjoy—depends on voters’ ability to put preferred candidates into office. We need to look no further than the SCOTUS draft leak highlighting the Supreme Court’s intention to overturn Roe v. Wade as a proof point.
Republicans have planned to eliminate reproductive freedom for decades. Their plans started well before they refused President Obama‘s nomination of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court. Last summer, Time magazine reported on the grasp Republicans have on several aspects of the political process.
“Through bare-knuckle tactics in the Senate, an animated base of voters and an institutionalized and well-funded pipeline for judges, Republicans have stocked the federal bench at all levels with conservatives who share the right’s support for whacking at the wall between church and state and the powers of federal regulatory agencies, banning abortion and expanding gun rights,” read the article.
While we understand reproductive freedom to be important, we will live through a period of intense terror if congressional and executive action isn’t taken to prevent Roe from being overturned. Black, Indigenous and women of color, and women living in poverty will be criminalized in a way that few people can fathom. Those communities are already disproportionately impacted due to racism, and if access to abortion care is restricted, their very lives will be jeopardized.
When advocates speak about the power of the vote, they really mean the ability to live with dignity. If people cannot vote, have their votes counted and elect candidates of choice, we will be hard-pressed to influence key areas impacting our lives, let alone have anything close to dignity.
At this moment, we must do more to put power back with the people and out of the hands of elected leaders whose only devotion is to the concentration of power in the hands of the wealthy. We can do this by refusing to allow the machinations of conservatives to dim our light, by continuing to register and turn out to vote, and by speaking out about injustice when and where we see it.
We know our path is not covered with roses. But we know that our ancestors fought long and hard for the freedoms we now enjoy. There is no sense in retreating or relenting. We are bigger and better than that.
Moné Holder is the senior director of advocacy and programs for Florida Rising, which organizes multi-racial movements to win elections, change laws and create a state where all are safe, happy, healthy and whole.