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June 9, 2020 // Opinion  //       //  Opinion

Feeling Overwhelmed by The Enormity of How to Impact Real Change?

Voting is one very real way for your voice to be heard

By: Kay Brungs Laud

We now collectively face a global pandemic, massive economic downturn and racial relations at a tipping point. It can feel overwhelming and make one question their impact on what feel like insurmountable issues. However, there is one very powerful way we can all make a difference –voting. Unfortunately, the right to cast a ballot is a remarkable privilege many too often take for granted.  

The right to vote is what our Founding Fathers fought for and is the cornerstone of our constitutional republic. Even today, many countries around the world do not allow their citizens to vote. In the United States, the right to vote is one that took decades and generations to achieve:

  • In 1789 only 6% of those living in the U.S. could vote; white, property-owning men.
  • In 1868, the 14th Amendment granted the right to vote to all males born or naturalized in the U.S. Two years later, the 15th Amendment prevented states from denying the right to vote on the grounds of race, color or previous condition of servitude.
  • In 1887, Native Americans were granted citizenship only if they disassociated from their tribe.
  • The 19th Amendment passed in 1920, giving women the right to vote for the first time.
  • The Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 granted all Native Americans the right to vote.
  • U.S. citizens living in the District of Columbia were not able to vote in the U.S. presidential election until the 23rd Amendment was passed in 1961.
  • Nearly 100 years after the abolishment of slavery, racial discrimination in voting was prohibited with the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
  • And before 1971, you could only vote if you were 21 years or older.

With hundreds of thousands of our fellow Americans fighting and dying for our right to vote, we owe it to their legacies to honor their great gift by exercising our right to vote. Yet in the last presidential election in 2016, more than 44% of the U.S. voting age population did not cast ballots.

According to the Pew Research Center, voter turnout numbers in the United States are quite low compared with other developed nations; in fact, the U.S. ranked 31 out of the 35 countries in its study. The latest U.S. Census Bureau data recorded roughly 245.5 million Americans aged 18 and above, but only 157.6 million of them were registered to vote. 

Does my vote really make a difference?

We've seen in countless elections – especially over the past two decades – many races are too close to call and every vote must be recounted to determine the winner. In the 2018 midterm elections, six races from the Georgia Governor to the Mississippi Senate to the Arizona Senate were too close to call. I personally served on a presidential election campaign where the state I campaigned in won by less than 2,000 total votes. So I have seen firsthand just how important every vote is.

Why does it matter?

As former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams recently pointed out in a New York Times opinion piece, while Americans might not care about specific politicians, they do care about the impact issues have on their lives. Our local, state, and federal elected officials decide how our tax dollars are spent — how much funding goes toward our schools, what policies we put in place for our criminal justice system, how we protect our environment, who is and is not allowed to get married, among so many other issues.

It is critical to do research on each candidate and understand their policies, views, and how they have supported certain communities and issues in the past. Look at who else supports them and who and what organizations contribute to their campaigns. In addition to candidates, there are often local issues on ballots, so make sure you understand what voting for or against each one really means for your community.

What can you do to make sure your voice is heard in 2020?

The U.S. Election Assistance Commission recommends the following 10 tips to help enhance your voting experience:

  1. Register to vote: Most states require citizens to be registered in order to vote. It takes just a few minutes to register and can be done online here.
  2. Confirm your voter registration status: Once you register to vote, check your status with your state or local elections office several weeks before the last day to register to vote.
  3. Know your polling place location and hours: If you vote at a polling place on Election Day, confirm your polling place location. Know what time your polling place opens and closes. 
  4. Know your State’s voter identification (ID) requirements: Some states require voters to show ID to vote. You can find out what forms of ID your state accepts by contacting your state or local elections office or checking their websites. 
  5. Understand provisional voting: Federal law allows you to cast a provisional ballot in a federal election if your name does not appear on the voter registration record, if you do not have ID or if your eligibility to vote is in question. Your state may provide other reasons for voting by a provisional ballot. Whether a provisional ballot counts depends on if the state can verify your eligibility. Check with your state or local elections office to learn how to tell if your provisional ballot was counted. 
  6. Check the accessibility of your polling place: If you are a voter with minority language needs or with special needs or specific concerns due to a disability, your polling place may offer special assistance. Contact your local elections office for advice, materials in a specific language, information about voting equipment and details on access to the polling place, including parking. 
  7. Consider voting early: Some states allow voting in person before Election Day. Find out if your state has early voting in person or by mail and if so when, where, and how you can vote before Election Day.
  8. Understand absentee voting requirements: Most states allow voters to use an absentee ballot under certain circumstances. Check on the dates and requirements for requesting and returning an absentee ballot before Election Day. Absentee ballots often must be returned or postmarked before the polls close on Election Day. Determine your state’s requirements for returning absentee ballots. 
  9. Learn about military and overseas voting: Special voting procedures may apply if you are in the U.S. military or you are an American citizen living overseas. You may qualify for an absentee ballot by submitting a Federal Post Card Application (FPCA). You can learn more through the Federal Voting Assistance Program.
  10. Get more information: For more on these tips and for answers to other questions about the election process, contact your State or local elections office.

As the country still faces great uncertainty about what COVID-19 means for social distancing a week, a month or even a year from now, many wonder how many physical polling locations will be open. And if they are, will it be safe to vote in person? One solution, if your state allows, is to vote by mail. Beginning as early as August, many states will allow voters to request a vote-by-mail ballot. With a greater number of mail in ballots expected this year, you should get your ballot in as soon as possible so there isn’t a glut of ballots needing to be counted on or around the November election date. 

As elections traditionally fall on Tuesdays, one of the main reasons people cite for not voting is being too busy with work and their personal demands. To address this barrier and increase voter participation, a diverse coalition of more than 450 companies came together in the summer 2018 to launch Time To Vote. Allison+Partners is proud to have joined this initiative and is committed to ensuring its employees have a work schedule that allows for time to vote in elections. This movement is a non-partisan effort that demonstrates the power of what the business community can achieve when it works to address some of the most significant issues of our time.

While many of the issues we face as a nation seem insurmountable, remember that you have an amazing opportunity that so many fought hard for you to have: the right to vote.
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Kay Brungs Laud is a senior vice president and works out of Allison+Partners’ Chicago office. Prior to starting her career in public relations, she lived and worked in Washington, D.C., where she spent several years working on the Hill and was part of two presidential campaigns. She graduated from American University with a bachelor’s degree in Political Science.


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