It has been 244 years since the declaration of the land of the free, a declaration in which Americans were supposed to be able to achieve life and liberty. It has been 157 years since the passing of the Emancipation Proclamation which was intended to set all slaves free. Juneteenth marks 155 years since the true end to slavery when troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, to ensure that all slaves were freed. Yet we are still fighting for our freedom.
We are still fighting for equity. The time is now for democracy to live up to its name. Instead, we continually hear of the modern-day lynching of our brothers and sisters: George Floyd in Minnesota, Breonna Taylor in Kentucky, Nina Pop in Missouri, Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia and Atatiana Jefferson, Botham Jean and Sandra Bland all in Texas, among many others known and unknown. This is a national tragedy that occurs because of the patterns and practices within our justice system and that needs to change.
In Texas, specifically, Black people need access to the ballot to elect leaders who will actively work to stop police terror in the state. Voter suppression is rampant in our communities, and Black and brown voters cannot continue to suffer at the hands of it. We need elected officials who understand that Black lives matter, and we need the police force and legislation to reflect that. This country so fervently relies on a system that forces us to accept representation that was not selected by a representative body.
Unbecoming of its age, the United States is entrapped with complacency as it continually dismisses Black and brown voters and their needs. This conversation does not begin with how candidates can refocus their agendas to be equitable. The first step is making sure every citizen has the ability to register to vote. For far too long, this country has allowed white voices to ring louder than others on issues that affect people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, women and the working class. The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the disparities that many minority communities already knew existed.
The voting rights that exist currently do not consider the many narratives of citizens who make up America. Black and brown people are contributing to the self-proclaimed “melting pot” where only one ingredient is considered to be palatable. The Black and brown vote is being stolen before it can even be considered a topic of conversation for being bought. Voter registration in the Black community is at an all-time low and will remain the same if voters’ rights don’t change. Expanded voter accessibility should have been a proactive measure. It is needed now more than ever as we adjust to this unanticipated time.
Everyone is entitled to a vote, and our system needs to reflect that, even in the most uncertain of times.
For example, Royce West could have been the first Black U.S. senator to represent Texas if more marginalized communities had access to the ballot. First-time voters need to know their voice matters. Efforts need to be made for the elderly who require assistance and are within the vulnerable population. And there should be times outside the traditional workday that working-class citizens can exercise their right to vote. In our evolving world, technology is the center of our being, and it should be used to enable a more comprehensive voting process.
While COVID-19 will create a different voting experience, including social distancing, there are options such as mail-in voting or early voting. These voting options will lead to an economically centered conversation. Fulfilling a civic responsibility should not incur a financial burden, such as paying for postage to mail in a ballot, taking off work or securing childcare to stand in line to vote. Some states, such as Maryland and California, have a plan of action for voting. California’s voting processes were in place far before any mention of the current pandemic.
However, some states, like Texas, for example, have failed to put a voting plan in place. Texas is behind the curve and is one of only 10 states without online voter registration. There needs to be progressive change in our state’s voting laws, and we need a responsive legislature to accomplish this. Online voter registration with the option for permanent mail-in ballots, like in California, is a great example for what Texas could implement. Automatic voter registration is ideal.
During this pandemic, citizens are being asked to choose between their physical health and their overall health in every sense of the word in the future. The solution for Texas during COVID-19 needs to include swift access to voter registration forms with prepaid postage and no-excuse mail-in ballots. This would demonstrate that the government is willing to meet the needs of its citizens rather than disenfranchise them. However, this will require time, transparency and security. In the interim, these options can serve as temporary solutions until a permanent one is accessible. We need local and state elected officials to move forward in this manner to ensure success in securing equitable voting rights for everyone. The Texas NAACP Youth & College chapter will continually pursue this effort alongside community partners to ensure fair and just access to all sects of democracy.
Shevann Steuben is the Texas NAACP State Conference Youth & College president and the Baylor University NAACP chapter president.