“In Ohio we say elections are like the weather. If you don’t like how things look right now, just wait five minutes and it will all change.” Carrie Davis, executive director of the League of Women Voters of Ohio, shared those words as a guest panelist during the nonpartisan Election Protection coalition’s convening entitled The Road Ahead for Voting Rights: Lessons Learned and Building Winning Strategies for 2015 and Beyond.
The event brought together national organizations like the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice and the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights with state and community-based groups like the affiliates of the League of Women Voters, Democracy North Carolina, Colorado Common Cause and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to share their successes, challenges and lessons learned from the 2014 election cycle.
At the top of many attendees’ minds was the dire need to protect voters on day one of the 2015 state legislative season, which promises to bring with it many renewed attempts to restrict voters’ rights at the state level.
As a first time attendee of this event, and being relatively new to voter protection work, here are three practical takeaways that stuck with me:
- Voting rights advocacy is a year-round activity. Even as they debrief from Election Day 2014, voting rights advocates are beginning to pivot to working with legislators and officials in states where voting rights may be challenged during the 2015 legislative season or where there are opportunities for reforms to make our elections fair, free and accessible. Others are working to identify ways to expand their voting rights advocacy work, including in places where ongoing legal challenges by the League of Women Voters and other groups remain. While the mainstream media may consider 2015 an off-year for elections, advocates know they must start preparing now for 2016.
- Election rules can change rapidly. In the lead up to Election Day, we all have a role to play in making sure voters have the information they need. Promoting and sharing education materials online — such as through the League’s award-winning VOTE411.org election resources — gives advocates the ability to constantly make changes and update information as needed. The League of Women Voters of Ohio used online tools, which proved to be immensely important when election information was changing rapidly before Election Day, sometimes week-to-week.
- Relationships are key. Effective voting rights advocacy requires national, state and local organizations from a variety of backgrounds to work together. To be successful, groups need to both honor their own strengths and support each other’s work. For local activists, this might be sharing powerful stories that they learn in the communities with the media, their national or state offices, or other partners who can help shine a light on these injustices. For state groups, this could mean supporting elections officials as they push for additional funding in their budgets to hire additional staff or modernize their work. When we build an overarching culture of support and cooperation amongst partners, voters win.
Attending the Election Protection convening made me excited for what’s ahead in 2015, and helped me to see how the League plays a unique and important role in the nationwide voting rights advocacy community. Voting rights advocacy isn’t for the faint of heart, and I’m looking forward to hearing about the successes that will emerge next year.