Better Together: Vote, Because You Can

In 2016, when the United States elected its 45th president, only 58.1% of eligible voters cast a vote. Knowing this and feeling the urgency of the political moment for the US — regardless of any manner of partisanship — I wanted to see what I could do, and what Genesys could do, to increase voter participation here within our own walls. I realized I needed to do whatever I could to help inform and educate our employees. Encourage voting. Help them find civic opportunities to engage with the process. Raise awareness. In short, give them more tools.

Low voter turnout also underscores a persistent form of inequality in the US — that not everyone in the US can vote. A few reasons are because of a shortage of polling places in certain areas, restrictions on convicted felons voting, companies and jobs that don’t grant time off for voting, or members of the population who are unclear on the procedural elements associated with casting a vote. This all means we still have a problem on election day: not enough people participate.

Participatory democracy is a noble experiment at its core. But participation is a key element in whether or not a democracy can live up to its credo. It’s the ultimate check and balance. Limiting participation of certain members of the population has long been a way of keeping power in the hands of a very specific few. Here’s a rough timeline of which populations in the US got the right to vote and when.

  • When George Washington was elected president in 1789, only land-owning men over the age of 21, who owned property and paid taxes, were eligible to vote. Overwhelmingly white and protestant, this afforded voting rights to only 6% of the population.
  • In 1848, prominent abolitionists and women’s suffrage advocates like Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton convened with others in Seneca Falls, NY. This marked the birth of the women’s suffrage movement.
  • The 14th Amendment (1868) granted African Americans citizenship, though they would remain unable to vote for two more years until the 15th Amendment was ratified. In practice, “literacy tests,” poll taxes, voter intimidation, violence and other Jim Crow-era tactics prohibited a great many Black voters from casting ballots for the next century.
  • In 1920, the 19th Amendment to the Constitution grants suffrage to women, though Jim Crow prevented Black women in the South from voting. Discrimination toward Native American and Asian-American women — both of whom were frequently denied citizenship by the federal government — meant they were often unable to vote.
  • In 1924, the Indian Citizenship Act gave Native Americans full citizenship and voting rights, but many states deployed tactics to prevent them from voting.
  • The McCarran-Walter Act of 1952 struck down the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and granted all Asian Americans the right to become citizens and vote.
  • In 1965 the US Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, formally removing discriminatory barriers that historically kept many people of color from voting. It also banned literacy tests and directed the Department of Justice to oversee voter registration efforts in places with low African-American registration numbers and/or a history of discrimination at the polls.
  • In 2013, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act was unconstitutional, thus freeing states to enact more restrictive voting regulations. Many have, including Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, South Dakota, Iowa, and Indiana.

Many state laws covering “felony disenfranchisement,” voter ID laws and the like are still being fought in court, while a lack of polling places in certain districts leads to lower-than-average turnout. Clearly, we still have work to do.

But we also have an obligation — a sacred duty to the men and women who have been fighting for nearly 250 years to afford us the opportunity to vote.

“Your vote matters. If it didn’t, why would some people keep trying to take it away.”

John Lewis, 2018

John Lewis should know. Scarcely a decade before my birth, he routinely risked his life in the Civil Rights Movement. That movement ushered in the reforms that allow me to go to the polls on November 3rd. This year, that obligation comes with an additional one. Showing up is one thing. Showing up informed is another. Study your local and down-ballot initiatives. Read your voter guide. Do real research.

Also, check with your local registrar of voters to make sure you’re registered. While you’re at it, make sure that you check whether you’re voting in person or through an absentee ballot. If you have questions about the process of ballot collection — or by when it needs to be postmarked — ask. If you want to find out how to become a poll worker, ask. Get involved however you can.

Over the next month, we’ll be beating the drum to get our US-based employees involved, informed and ready to participate. We’re scheduling a voter-education week, providing additional sources for voter education and planning activities with our inclusion groups.

As we get closer to election day, we’ll be reminding people of the date(s) when early voting starts. And finally, we’re planning to make election day itself as voter-friendly as possible — declaring the day free of internal meetings to help facilitate in-person voting.

It’s my sincere hope that, in such a vitally important election year, other companies and organizations take some of the same steps. Making sure that people can exercise their right to vote is important because it delivers equity to them. As the Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Officer, it’s my job to create equity in the workplace. Doing so with regard to voting is a natural extension of my role. And, in my opinion, putting the participation back into participatory democracy is the best way to make sure it works better for all of us.