The right to vote is a fundamental cornerstone of our country’s democracy. Ordinary men and women have fought—and even died—to gain voting rights and to protect people’s right to vote without intimidation or obstruction. Yet states across the country continue to pass voter suppression laws designed to limit our voices.
The AFL-CIO’s voter protection and education program is a nonpartisan effort to raise awareness on voting rights, educate voters on new voting laws, and ensure voters are able to vote fairly and without intimidation—and that those votes are counted.
Know Your Voting Rights
Elections are important and the outcome of these elections has a direct impact on your life, from the president, who will make lifetime appointments, to the justices of the U.S. Supreme Court and other federal courts to the city council members, who will decide whether or not you get that stoplight at the dangerous intersection near your home.
In some states, voting laws have changed. Make sure you prepare yourself in advance of the election. Here’s what you need to do and know:
- Register to vote. Many states have registration deadlines long before Election Day, so make sure you don’t miss your state’s deadline. It takes less than two minutes to register to vote online: www.workingamericavotes.org/register.
- If you are registered already, make sure to verify your registration status. This is especially important if you’ve moved. Do this before your state’s voter registration deadline.
- Find your polling place before Election Day. Sometimes these locations change between elections. (If you cannot look your polling place up in the Rock the Vote tool, click on “Contact Your Local Official” and look up the info there.)
- Know your polling place hours. Make sure to arrive at the polling place before it closes. Keep in mind that if you are in line at the time the place closes, you have the right to vote.
- Make sure you know what type of voter identification you must bring to the polling place if your state requires one. Make sure you bring that identification with you.
- If you require assistance in voting because you are blind, have a disability, or are unable to read, write or speak English, you have the right to that assistance in the voting booth from a person of your choosing (as long as it is not your employer, an agent of your employer, or an officer or agent of your union).
- Don’t hesitate to ask for help from people who work at the polls (that’s why they’re there) and check posted information signs if you have questions or need assistance.
- Vote early if that option is available in your state or municipality.
What's Wrong with Voter ID Laws
Strict voter identification law supporters argue these laws are necessary to prevent voter fraud and are not designed to suppress anyone's ability to vote. But we've known for a while that voter fraud is largely a myth.
A major problem with voter ID laws is that they vary dramatically by state, each applying an arbitrary definition of what is considered acceptable identification. The Wisconsin Legislature excludes student IDs from Wisconsin’s two-year technical colleges but permits IDs from four-year private universities. And it excludes valid out-of-state drivers’ licenses. In some states, gun permits are acceptable identification but university IDs are not.
According to the ACLU, 17 states will have new restrictive voting laws in place this November. These laws include new hurdles to registration, cutbacks on early voting and strict voter identification requirements. Collectively, these 17 states are home to more than 110 million people and account for 189 of the 270 electoral votes necessary to win the presidency.
Let’s be honest, voter suppression laws are about one thing—making it harder for working people to have a say in the future of our great country. The right of every citizen to participate in our democracy should be guaranteed.
More than 50 million eligible voters are unregistered, and people of color are overrepresented in the ranks of unregistered voters. Restrictive voter registration laws place the burden on individual voters to register and stay registered when they move or their information changes. Millions of registered voters regularly fall off the voting rolls, often without their knowledge. These complications also cause confusion and delay at the polls, resulting in long lines and a missed opportunity to vote.
Voting Rights Should Be Expanded
The U.S. government needs to expand voting opportunities in America and support universal voter registration—not erect new hurdles, like strict voter ID laws.
We support legislative and administrative reforms at the federal, state and local levels to expand voter registration and greater access to voting, including expanded early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, same day registration and voter registration modernization. We also think voting rights should be restored to individuals who have committed crimes but served their time.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to ensure state and local governments do not pass laws or policies that deny American citizens the equal right to vote based on race. As one of the world's leading democracies, the United States should work to keep voting free, fair and accessible. That’s why the Voting Rights Act is so important. It makes sure every citizen, regardless of race, has an equal opportunity to participate in our great democracy.
On June 25, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court invalidated Section 4, a key provision of the Voting Rights Act, thereby removing a critical tool to combat racial discrimination in voting. Under Section 5 of the act, jurisdictions with a history of discrimination must seek pre-approval of changes in voting rules. This process, known as “preclearance,” helps to block discrimination before it occurs. In Shelby County v. Holder, the court found that the formula in Section 4—which determines the states and localities covered by Section 5—was unconstitutional, meaning the formula could no longer be used as a basis for subjecting jurisdictions to preclearance. The court claimed that a more current coverage formula was needed.
This is a giant step backward and Congress needs to take up legislation to fully restore the Voting Rights Act and ensure all who want to vote, can vote.