Vice President Kamala Harris, who is becoming the spear-carrier in the Biden administration’s battle over voting rights, recently encouraged some front-line poll workers to embrace their role in protecting voters’ rights.
So far she has met elected officials of both major parties, and stands at the vanguard of a multimillion-dollar voting rights campaign launched by the Democratic National Committee.
Most recently, Harris engaged a small group of poll workers to learn more about their experiences and what they thought people should know about poll workers’ roles in protecting voting rights.
Some of the poll workers entered the discussion eager to speak about the voting rights legislation coming out of several states.
“States are being allowed to hinder and slow down voting access and not with goodness at heart,” said Gina Nicole Brown, an actor and comedian from Silver Spring, Md. who has served as a poll worker for five years.
As Brown recounted to The Informer, the early voting process during the 2020 general election campaign generated long wait lines at her polling station. She expressed bewilderment at how states have since been able to pass laws hindering ballot access.
“We should be helping people understand how policy works,” Brown said.
“I’m not happy with the several states that are trying to slow things down. Sadly, I understand why but I wish it didn’t exist. And I wish the people who thought that way and pushed those policies through didn’t work in government,” Brown said.
Ongoing Battle to Strengthen, Expand Voting Rights 
Over the past few months, Republican lawmakers in 17 states have either introduced or passed legislation limiting when and where voters can submit ballots.
Laws in Texas, Michigan, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa and Florida penalize poll workers for doing their job, and encourage partisanship in the craft.
Earlier this month, President Joe Biden admonished the passage of these laws.
However, proponents cite what they describe as election fraud during the 2020 election as an impetus.
Though that theory has been debunked, conservative legislatures have been able to proceed without difficulty.
In early July, the Supreme Court ruled to reinstate two Arizona laws that throw out votes cast outside of one’s precinct and bans the collection of absentee ballots from anyone other than a relative or caregiver.
The decision by the mostly conservative bench has further weakened the Voting Rights Act, which now only outlaws egregiously conspicuous forms of voter discrimination.
With a bust of Frederick Douglass behind her in the executive mansion,  Harris recently huddled with five poll workers, two of whom tuned in remotely. Much of their discussion, she said in her opening remarks, focused on how the American people can “have a fair, transparent, accessible opportunity to exercise their voice through their vote.”
Over the last few weeks, Democrats have struggled to acquire the votes needed to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the For the People Act.
These bills would restore portions of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, expand voting rights, and strengthen campaign finance laws, respectively. On Tuesday, all 50 Republican senators blocked passage of the For the People Act, much to the chagrin of Biden..
Harris’ meeting with poll workers preceded similar meetings with voting rights activists in Detroit, disabled voting rights activists, nearly two dozen Black women leaders, and Texas lawmakers who prevented the passage of legislation to make voting harder.
“We are forcefully working to pass the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act, and working to help ensure that all Americans know what they get when they vote — to further encourage them to vote knowing that it will make a difference in their lives,” Harris said on Wednesday.
Part of a Bigger Picture
During the 2020 election, Black students counted among those who volunteered as poll workers after their older counterparts opted out of participating due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
For DeAndre Malcolm, serving as a poll worker counted among the many activities he participated in to ease the voting process for fellow students and others who voted on the State College campus of Penn State University.
In the moments before he met with Harris, Malcolm, a student leader on his campus, expressed his hope that she would address a situation particularly affecting young people who express the view that their vote doesn’t count.
“A lot of my peers grew up in communities and come from backgrounds where our vote wasn’t necessarily embraced and amplified,” said Malcolm, 21.
“We’re not as educated on the process behind voting and the impact that can come from voting in your local and primary elections. Civic engagement and knowledge isn’t common in communities I grew up in,” Malcolm said.

Sam P.K. Collins

Sam P.K. Collins has more than a decade of experience as a journalist, columnist and organizer. Sam, a millennial and former editor of WI Bridge, covers education, police brutality, politics, and other...

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