The Womxn Project is a statewide organization focused on leveraging the power of art, activism, advocacy and education to advance the principles of reproductive justice, which demands that we all have the right to determine when and how we build our relationships, families and futures and that we have the ability to live and raise our children with dignity.
We are proud to submit testimony in support of S516, an omnibus bill to address barriers to voting and help to ensure that we are all able to make our voices heard at the ballot box.
Our vote is our voice. Our vote is our chance to have a say in who makes key decisions about our health, our families and our lives. We should do more to ensure that people are able to vote, and not allow our right to vote to be trampled on or taken away.
The Voting Rights Act was enacted in 1965 after years of people of color enduring violence and mistreatment when they tried to register or to exercise our right to vote. The VRA was meant to prohibit the practices that were designed to humiliate and to exclude people of color from voting, but the fact is that across the country we are still fighting limitations on who gets to vote either intentionally through disenfranchisement like voter ID or voter roll purges or through a lack of attention to what true accessibility requires. These limits have a disparate impact on people of color and other people who are pushed to the margins and silenced. In this time when we are working to dismantle systemic oppression, getting rid of obstacles to enfranchisement and access to the ballot is beyond critical.
The Womxn Project is proud to speak out with “Let RI Vote” and our partners across the state to advance this legislation, which would ensure all Rhode Islanders the opportunity to vote by mail and to vote early or on Election Day, as well as to enact same day voter registration.
In recent years we have seen coordinating attacks on voting rights and ballot access and unfounded questions about the validity of our elections. This presents a grave threat to our democracy. It also upholds the systems that maintain white supremacy and limit access to reproductive healthcare, and obstruct access to health care for Black, Indigenous and other people of color. Voting is intrinsically linked to pushing for the change that our families need and our communities deserve.
We must do more to secure voting reforms to ensure every single person feels safe voting and can vote if they want. This will be critical to real social change even after we have moved past the immediate crisis of the pandemic. Fortunately, we have a roadmap to begin to make that happen.
We need to ensure early in-person voting period to allow voters to cast their ballots over a spread-out period rather than in a cluster on Election Day. In this moment, this has allowed for there to be less people in-person at once to provide for social distancing, but this policy also means that folks who do not have paid time off available to get out on a specific Tuesday to vote and who may struggle for a one-day only option are not denied their right to vote. We know that people in low-wage jobs who can’t afford to take unpaid time are also more likely to be denied paid time to vote. Early voting would help address this inequity. Allowing absentee or voting-by-mail for all without needing to provide a reason is also a way to address these issues.
These changes will help make it easier for people to cast their ballot, but we also need to look at how restricting voter registration impedes the ability to vote. Same-day registration allows people to register and vote on the same day. It is particularly useful to people who have not interacted with government agencies or whose information has changed since they last did so. And because it allows eligible people to vote even if their names are not already on the voter rolls, same day registration safeguards against improper purges, registration system errors, and cybersecurity attacks.
Same day registration has been used successfully in several states since the 1970s. Today, more than 20 states and the District of Columbia have passed some form of same day registration, either on Election Day, during early voting, or both. This common sense policy has been shown to boost voter turnout by 5 to 7%, particularly among communities who are often denied equal access to the systems that impact our lives. It is also worth noting that more than 60 percent of Americans support it making this policy that works and has broad support. Same day voter registration in combination with early voting and expanded mail-in ballot access would ensure that no eligible voter is left out of our democratic process. It is time to bring these proven reforms to our state.
In the wake of the violent attacks on Asian American women in Georgia, we can see how important it is that we not only speak out against hate, but also take action to dismantle white supremacy. This must include addressing the barriers to shaping the system that has so much of an impact not only on our lives, but also on the culture and the way in which marginalized people are treated, viewed and included.
Whether we are looking at the need to aggressively take on systemic oppression or the continued gaps in access to healthcare, voting is part of that work. We all need to know that our voices will be heard. We need to make voting work for everyone. This legislation is an important first step. We urge you to support S 516. Thank you for your consideration.
Contact: Barbara Colt ([email protected] or 401-400-0061)