Your organization should take a stance on election access. Here’s how.
Throughout US history, voting access has been used as a mechanism to maintain power within certain groups and restrict power within others. This, along with public demands to expand civil rights, has led to fluctuations in who has access to voting and in what capacity. Broad access to voting did not become a reality until the 1960s with the passage of the Voting Rights Act, followed by laws that lowered the voting age to 18, increased access for non-English speakers, and added accessibility requirements for people with disabilities. Enfranchisement and voting equity continued to expand in other ways through the early 2000s.
In the 2013 Shelby County v. Holder case, the Supreme Court determined that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional. Since then, the nation has been in a period of narrowing access. Using misinformation about the 2020 presidential election, efforts to disenfranchise voters have accelerated, with more than 260 bills introduced nationwide that would interfere with nonpartisan administration of elections.
Restrictions to voting access disproportionately impact lower-income communities, people of color, people with disabilities, and people with language access barriers. Therefore, equity in our communities and institutions cannot be achieved without equitable access to the ballot.
How can those of us committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion take action in support of voting access?
With this question in mind, LeadBoston recently invited 2019 alum Joanna Lydgate, Founder and CEO of States United Democracy Center to share her expertise with others in the LeadBoston network during a Lunch and Learn. States United Democracy Center is a non-partisan organization “committed to making sure every vote is counted, every voice is heard, and every election is safe.” Joanna shared steps we can take, both as community members and as leaders in our workplaces, to help protect our democracy:
- Pay attention to who is running in county and municipal elections, especially candidates who deny the 2020 election results. (Bonus points – volunteer at your local polling place.)
- Monitor your state legislature for bills that seek to increase or restrict access to voting. Share your opinion about those bills with your elected officials. For instance, S.459 in Massachusetts “An Act Fostering Voting Opportunities, Trust, Equity, and Security” is currently supported by YW Boston’s Advocacy Committee.
- Find out whether your organization has any benefits or policies that support employees in voting. If there are policies, recommend ways to make it as inclusive as possible. If your organization currently doesn’t have a policy, advocate for one.
- Review other organizational policies regarding publicly speaking out on current events. See if your organization can join coalitions on relevant topics to help advance policies.
- Look to trusted sources and verify information before sharing it.
How can organizations address barriers that prevent them from taking a stance on election access?
Following Joanna’s presentation, LeadBoston alums added their own perspectives to the conversation. They described how organizations and leaders are hesitant to talk about voting access in the workplace, let alone publicly advocate for it, because they are concerned it might seem too political. One way to address this reluctance is to think about voting access through the lens of organizational values. By highlighting how an equitable democratic process aligns with your organization’s core values, the conversation can feel less politically charged.
Furthermore, from a business perspective, remaining silent about important social issues can come at a price. LeadBoston alumni pointed to examples like Disney, who did not initially condemn Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill despite the LGBTQ+ community comprising a substantial portion of their audience. In cases like this, the fallout from customers and employees could outweigh the risks of taking a stance. When it comes to defending democracy, organizations should consider it in relation to organizational values and DEI commitments, and also in a business sense. Leaders might be more willing to support voting access if they understand that it’s in the organization’s best interest.
In addition, while it may seem like a polarizing topic, election protection is in fact supported by most Americans regardless of party affiliation. According to data from Protect Democracy and Secure Democracy, 85% of voters nationwide would support legislation that prohibits officials from interfering with election procedures. More than 80% of voters support protecting the security and privacy of election documents and more than 70% of voters are concerned about increased threats to elections. This research shows that most Americans are in favor of fair voting, so talking about it at work shouldn’t feel taboo.
How can employees and individuals support equitable election access?
Aside from discussing ways to support their organizations in taking a stand, LeadBoston alumni also reflected on how they can take action in their own roles. One recommendation was to make sure organizational policies benefit all employees, including hourly employees, shift employees, and essential staff. Sometimes these groups of employees aren’t able to take advantage of voting benefits, such as paid time off to vote. It’s worth reviewing current policies to ensure all employees are covered.
Extending voting access to all people is a national concern, but there are things we can do within our local communities and workplaces to support the effort. To start, we can work on the action items Joanna shared with LeadBoston alumni. As you get involved, let us know what progress you’re making! If your organization is setting a good example, we want to hear about it. Together, we can improve trust in elections, increase access to voting, and advocate for a government that’s representative of Greater Boston’s diversity.
Become a part of YW Boston’s LeadBoston program and join a network of over 1,000 inclusive leaders in Boston. During this 11-month program, participants explore and learn how to address barriers to inclusion through facilitated dialogue, expert speakers, and peer learning. Through experiential activities, participants delve into the social, political, and socioeconomic realities of Boston and explore innovative solutions to inequity. Interested in learning more? Reach out to Rachael McCoy, Senior LeadBoston Manager, at email@example.com with any questions about the program.