The president of the United States refuses to say whether he will accept the result of the election, refuses to disavow armed white supremacist groups, and, in the midst of a pandemic, encourages efforts to make voting more difficult.
Every week now, I receive messages from Friends around the country expressing uncertainty about this moment. They fear that voters will not be allowed to choose the next president, and that the same tactics that have been used to deny the right to vote to poor communities and people of color will be amplified even more in this election. They ask: What are we doing right now to prevent this from happening, and what can we do after the elections to ensure a peaceful transfer of power?
The good news is that a lot is going on.
Take advantage of the early voting that is permitted in many states. Don’t assume your family, Friends, and neighbors will vote.
After the president refused to commit to a peaceful transfer of power, the House voted overwhelmingly (397 to 5) in favor of a resolution supporting a peaceful transfer of power after the next election. In late September, the Senate unanimously adopted a similar resolution. (It wouldn’t hurt to thank your members of Congress for these votes.) The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has also informed Congress that the military will not play a role in the elections or settle any post-election disputes.
But the headlines this week brought further troubling developments. On Oct. 8, news broke of the FBI’s arrest of members of an armed white militia intent on kidnapping the elected governor of Michigan. On Oct. 7, a Utah senator declared that “we’re not a democracy.” And on Oct. 5, a court decision was handed down that will make voting more difficult in South Carolina. I can pretty much guarantee that similar headlines will continue until at least Nov. 3—and probably longer.
There are good groups and several campaigns putting together teams of lawyers to contest these rulings and challenge efforts to suppress voting. But my fear is that, beyond the legal efforts, the press reports of these actions will lead some people to bow out of the election. I’ve already had several people say to me, “Well, I doubt my vote will matter anyway, so why bother.” This is where you can all make the biggest difference.
Make a Plan to Vote, Early if Possible
Take advantage of the early voting that is permitted in many states. Don’t assume your family, Friends, and neighbors will vote. Particularly given the confusion of changed polling places as a result of COVID-19 and efforts to suppress turnout, your personal efforts to help others cast their ballots are tremendously important.
FCNL has put up a few key resources on ballot access on our website. We also have a partnership with Headcount, where you can register to vote and get information about how to encourage others to do the same.
Stay Engaged and Build Relationships with Congress
The election this year has also thrown into stark relief the weaknesses of our system of government: There are far too many laws designed to keep the poor and communities of color from fully participating in our democracy, and our electoral system doesn’t respect the popular vote. We can help change these realities by staying engaged and building relationships with Congress.
The election this year has also thrown into stark relief the weaknesses of our system of government.
We must change our electoral laws to restore the Voting Right Act, thus making voting easier and building up the integrity of our political system. But that’s only going to happen if we can persuade Congress to change the laws. Ask the candidates now about what they will do to restore the Voting Rights Act and build relationships with your elected officials so that you can influence what they do in 2021 after the election.
What About After the Elections?
Beyond the actions of Congress, the teams of lawyers, and the campaigns themselves, we have been working with our faith partners and other communities to defend our democratic system. Several Quakers have helped put together a project called Choose Democracy, which is organizing individuals to commit to vote, to not to accept the results of an election until all votes are counted, and to train for non-violent civil disobedience in the event that the integrity of the elections is not respected. Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner and Adam Russell Taylor have also posted an important article on Sojourners that includes a call to faith communities.
Quakers have asked our FCNL community to focus on bipartisan work to engage federal policy makers to change federal policy. Your work with us to lobby Congress, to build relationships with lawmakers, and to change policy is absolutely vital. In addition, we have put together a series of links to good groups that are providing guidance during this difficult election year.
My central plea: Don’t let the statements from some of our political leaders, or the news cycle, keep you and your community from voting. Take advantage of the resources available and learn how to vote, how to engage your community in voting, how to monitor and report abuses of the right to vote, and how to follow the results of the elections. We all need to stay engaged through Nov. 3 and in the weeks after.