The June 9 primary election in Georgia was a debacle. The problems included inoperable voting machines, fewer polling places, shortages of ballots and hours long waits to vote. The head of a Georgia voting rights group reported that 75% of the calls her organization fielded regarding voting issues were from African American voters.
Georgia’s election is only the latest example — Wisconsin’s April election is another — of the erosion of voting rights that, in the words of the Brennan Center for Justice, “disproportionately disenfranchise racial minorities and distort our democracy.” Or, as LeBron James tweeted, “Everybody talking about how do we fix this? They say go out and vote. What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist?”
Voting rights is an important issue for me. I’ve worked to increase access to the ballot box as the communications chair for the Dane County Voter ID Coalition, a nonpartisan group led by the Dane County League of Women Voters and the Dane County NAACP. We provided information and support to make voting easier and conducted voter education drives.
Through my work leading the local chapter of the National Organization for Women, I worked to increase awareness of the systemic injustice in the ways voting access is being restricted by organizing panel discussions with area voting rights experts. I’ve also organized screenings of films such as "The Best Democracy Money Can Buy."
As a Madison city alder, I’m working with the city clerk’s office to identify solutions to overcome these barriers and inequities, including making the absentee ballot application and process for uploading an ID easier to navigate.
As I talk to voters in the 48th Assembly District, the issues they mention most frequently are education and voting rights. They are concerned with gerrymandering, which disproportionately affects communities of color, makes some votes count for more than others, and ultimately undermines our democracy.
Nationally, we must work to restore the Voting Rights Act in order to curtail the use of odious voter suppression techniques.
In Wisconsin, we must stand up against blatant attempts to suppress the vote. We must continue to improve the distribution of absentee ballots and encourage voters to use them. I laud the plan to mail absentee ballot applications to every voter in the state. I hope these include clear and translated instructions including what counts as a proper ID for voting and how to upload it. Lack of clarity on what is an acceptable ID invalidated many absentee ballot applications in the spring election.
There should be standardized practices around curbside voting which should be expanded, so that voting is more accessible statewide. We must ensure we are planning for and investing adequately in polling place staffing and training both to minimize long wait times and ensure full use of voting equipment. In Madison, we’re very fortunate to benefit from the hard work and superior organizing efforts of our city clerk’s office.
The fight for full and unabridged voting rights for all Americans has been long and it is far from over. Because voting rights are fundamental to full citizenship, this is a battle worth waging and one we must win.
Ald. Lindsay Lemmer serves on the Madison City Council, is president of the Wisconsin Chapter of NOW, and is a candidate for state assembly in the 48th District which includes areas on Madison’s north and east sides.
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