Protecting the right to vote in next year’s presidential election is key to maintaining American democracy, and already groups are recognizing that and mobilizing.
Fair Fight 2020, founded by Stacey Abrams, who rose to national prominence during her 2018 run for governor of Georgia, has a plan to secure the integrity of our nation’s elections.
In connection with Crooked Media, Fair Fight 2020 has flagged 20 battleground states, including Iowa, where local staff will deploy to ensure the rights of all eligible voters are protected.
Fair Fight 2020 will work with state Democratic parties and allies to fund, staff and train local residents in each state to combat individual ballot access issues. The group partnered with Crooked Media to raise awareness and resources.
Here are the priorities:
- Ensure voters are able to register, cast their ballot and have their ballot count;
- Work with local election officials to guarantee laws are followed and interpreted fairly;
- Use diverse teams to educate minority groups about their rights;
- Host multilingual hotlines to answer questions and report issues before and during elections;
- Prepare court challenges to combat potential suppression.
According to the organization’s website, the effort will cost $5 million.
Nathan Blake, Iowa’s deputy attorney general, said he’s excited to see a group like Fair Fight 2020 invest in voter education in Iowa and across the country.
“I think Iowa has a history of being, generally speaking, a good government state,” he said. “I think there’s a recognition that the overt types of voter suppression hasn’t been in our history. Instead, we kind of march toward more and more accessibility when it comes to casting a ballot.”
But, he noted, that has changed in recent years with Republican leadership at the Statehouse.
Now, Iowa has voter ID laws, and in 2019 the Legislature introduced a bill to close polling places an hour earlier, require absentee ballots be received before Election Day — not simply postmarked before Election Day — and change the law so state-owned government buildings can’t serve as voting locations.
Beginning in 2018, the window for early voting was shortened from 40 days before Election Day to 29.
Fair Fight 2020 will direct its efforts in helping Iowa voters navigate the field of new laws and regulations a year before the election, giving teams time to find and solve issues before voters go to the polls.
Noah Tabor, a former voter protection director for Iowa Democrats, said Fair Fight 2020 is a great thing.
“The elections are the fundamental block of our democracy. Without elections, our country doesn’t exist,” he said.
Tabor said Iowa has mostly good laws and generally free elections, but vigilance is important.
“Folks shouldn’t be scared to go to elections because they don’t know how it’s going to work,” Tabor said. “We should make this easy, and efforts like this to educate voters is the best way to do it.”
The final bill passed by the Legislature removed the early poll closing, the satellite voting rule and the change in when absentee ballots must be received.
Still, Tabor said an effort that focuses people’s attention so far out from the election is a good thing.
“Making sure elections remain in the consciousness of folks, not just every four years but every year, and that process is kind of bringing elections back into the daily, weekly, monthly dialogue is a critically important thing,” he said.
The comprehensive focus of the initiative is another major benefit.
“I think to have this kind of sustained effort will be really important,” Blake said. “The voter protection folks that the Democratic Party hires and then brings in are really about casting the ballots.”
Some of Fair Fight’s proposed ideas are already in place on a small scale in Iowa. For example, the Lawyers’ Committee on Civil Rights Under Law, a nonprofit civil rights organization founded in 1963, the Democratic Party and individual campaigns maintain hotlines for voters to report problems at polling places.
Still, it will be helpful for voters to have a single source of information.
The Democratic Party typically hires a voter protection director, usually an attorney, and some deputies for every election. They sit at polling locations to observe that rules are followed. Volunteers, typically attorneys, help too, Blake said.
With Fair Fight 2020 on the ground, staff will specifically be trained to look for broken rules or improper procedures. They also will take care of issues and answer questions before voting begins to ensure residents are registered by Election Day.
“Iowa does not have the same problems some states do,” Blake said. “For a long time, there was kind of a bipartisan consensus that it was good to have more people voting and certainly you’d think that if you believe in democracy, you would still want that.”
By Nikoel Hytrek
Image via Stacey Abrams YouTube channel