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The Audacity to Vote!

February 1, 2021
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This is the second in a series of blogs written by Community Solutions staff members of color in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday and Black History Month.  

Sheila Lettsome and her mom.

Before my mother passed away in 2018, she accomplished something her parents never did.  

She voted.  

Like an excited child on the first day of school, she explained every detail of the process. How she read each question and carefully darkened each circle. She called her friends squealing with delight, it was a great accomplishment.

 Her voice was counted.

This was a big deal to her because her parents came from the South where voter suppression against African-Americans was a serious reality. They dared not even dream about voting since it could cost them their lives. But if we learned anything of value from the 2020 election, voting can indeed make a difference and change the direction of a nation.  

Voting should be easy, but the 2020 election was wrought with accusations of strategies designed to create voter suppression. According to the ACLU, 36 states have identification requirements at the polls and seven states have strict photo ID laws. More than 21 million U.S. citizens do not have a valid government ID or easy access to one. Getting an ID can be costly and greatly impact lower income communities.[1] One of the most common forms of voter suppression is restricting the terms and requirements for voter registration which can include things like “onerous penalties for voter registration drives” and limiting the window of time in which a person can register. For example, the ACLU highlights on 2011 case where the Kansas Secretary of State championed a law requiring residents show ‘proof of citizenship’ documents in order to register to vote. According to the ACLU, “most people don’t carry the required documents on hand — like a passport, or a birth certificate — and as a result, the law blocked over 30,000 Kansans from voting. The ACLU sued and defeated the law in 2018.”[2]

 Voter suppression is nothing new.

Voter suppression is nothing new. A look at American history shows states found ways to circumvent the Constitution and prevent Blacks from voting even after Congress passed the 15th Amendment giving all citizens the right to vote. States used poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud and intimidation as a way to turn African-Americans away from the polls. “Until the Supreme Court struck it down in 1915, many states used the "grandfather clause " to keep descendants of slaves out of elections.[3] The clause said you could not vote unless your grandfather had voted -- an impossibility for most people whose ancestors were slaves.” If you listen to some of the news reports today, it sounds like history is repeating. [4]  

With a pandemic, racial unrest, economic downtown and a tough presidential election, 2020 was quite challenging to say the least. It was also the year Black voters realized their ability to make change happen. Facing long lines, limited polling places, voter registration challenges and a pandemic, Black voters took their lives in their hands and voted. Intense organizing and activism paid off, and hope remained. “The number of Black Americans eligible to vote for president has reached a record 30 million in 2020, with more than one-third living in nine of the nation’s most competitive states – Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin…Nationwide, Black eligible voters now make up 12.5 percent of the U.S. electorate, up from 11.5 percent in 2000.”[5] A few weeks ago I turned on the news and saw the long lines of voters, their facial masks, and the tired looks on some of their faces. They wanted their voices to be heard, and their votes to be counted.

 In the face of so much risk and oppression, they had the audacity to vote.

It worked.  

[1] https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-voter-suppression-in-2020/  

[2] https://www.aclu.org/news/civil-liberties/block-the-vote-voter-suppression-in-2020/  

[3] https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/elections/right-to-vote/voting-rights-for-african-americans/  

[4] https://www.loc.gov/classroom-materials/elections/right-to-vote/voting-rights-for-african-americans/  

[5] https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2020/10/21/key-facts-about-black-eligible-voters-in-2020-battleground-states/

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