Op-EdOpinion

JENKINS/MORIAL: AARP, National Urban League Making Sure Every Citizen’s Voice is Heard

As the leaders of two of the nation’s largest and most active advocacy organizations, AARP and National Urban League, we share a common commitment to defending the right of every American — regardless of age or race — to equal economic opportunity, fair housing, quality health care and participation in our democracy and civic processes.

The most vital of these is the right to participate in democracy. As President Lyndon Johnson said when he called upon Congress to create the Voting Rights Act in 1965, “It is from the exercise of this right that all our other rights flow.”

In this election year, the deadly coronavirus pandemic is leading too many of our citizens to question whether they will be able to cast their votes safely. We believe it is imperative that voters do not face unnecessary barriers: No one should have to choose between risking their health and casting their vote.

But the 2020 election has seen perhaps the most litigated rules of any election in American history, with the path to the ballot box shifting direction seemingly every few days. The Stanford-MIT Healthy Elections Project has tracked more than 300 legal battles over voting, many involving issues related to the pandemic like expanded absentee ballots and assistance to voters.

National Urban League, AARP and the AARP Foundation have been party to some of these cases or filed briefs in support of fair and equal access to the ballot. We have advocated for policies such as same-day voter registration, early voting, automatic voter registration and against onerous photo identification requirements that prevent citizens from voting.

We have worked hard, also, to educate voters not only about how, where, and when to cast their ballots, but also about the issues at stake in the election. AARP’s Voter Resources Guide and National Urban League’s Reclaim Your Vote: Protest to Power site are keeping voters up-to-date on the rules and deadlines for registering and voting in every state and the candidates’ positions on issues like racial justice and health care.

The flurry of litigation that has accompanied the run-up to the 2020 election is unlikely to end on Election Day. With polls showing the candidates virtually tied in several states, the results in at least a few are likely to be close enough to trigger a recount. Having fought for the right of every citizen to cast a ballot, we are just as determined to make sure all ballots are counted.

We both lead major national advocacy organizations, but we have something more personal in common. As African Americans born in the South during the Jim Crow Era, we have seen in our own families how hard-fought and precious the right to vote has been, and that fuels our commitment to safeguard that right. Therefore, we strongly urge you to get out and exercise your right to vote for the candidates of your choice.

AARP is guided by the promise of its founder, Dr. Ethel Percy Andrus, “What we do, we do for all.” Whitney M. Young, who led the National Urban League through the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, famously said, “Every man is our brother, and every man’s burden is our own.” We are proud to put those principles into action by standing together to make sure every citizen’s voice is heard.

Jenkins is AARP chief executive officer. Morial is National Urban League president and CEO.

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