December 18, 2020

Moments and Movements Speaker Series: Voting Rights and Social Equity Post 2020

4 min

The Venable Success Network (VSN) hosted a discussion with Venable alumnus Meredith Horton, a well-known legal advocate who has focused her career on protecting the integrity of U.S. elections and on preserving voting rights, and Kareem Crayton, a leading legal scholar, advisor, and consultant on elections and redistricting. As moderators, Lisa Tavares, chair of VSN and co-chair of Venable’s Business Division, and Janice Ryan, a partner in Venable’s Political Law practice, centered the discussion on strategies for fighting voter suppression and increasing voter engagement. They also explored countering legal challenges related to voting rights and redistricting throughout the years, as well as disparate impact of voter suppression efforts on communities of color.

Meredith, who has worked with voter and election protection programs across the United States, most recently in Texas during the 2020 election cycle, described how the surge in voting interest and pandemic challenges made Texas an interesting state for voting rights advocates. The top issues in the state came down to ensuring the integrity of and access to voting by mail, which served as a public health measure during the COVID-19 pandemic; working to increase access to ballot drop boxes, which were very limited across the state of Texas; poll location closures due to sick or fearful poll workers; and voter intimidation.

Kareem, founder and managing partner at Crimcard Consulting Services, provided a framework for the 2020 election through the lens of the Bush vs. Gore election in 2000. At that time, the candidates, the public, and the media were all trying to figure out how to navigate the tightly contested race, and in the 20 years since, there have been marked improvements to the voting system in this country. In the 2020 election, there was fundamentally a larger and more diverse share of the U.S. population casting ballots, prompting Kareem to pose the question, “Are there policy changes that can ensure this turnout will happen again in subsequent elections?” The answer may partly lie in his work, which involves mapping as a tool to craft policy for better voter engagement and subsequent redistricting based on that mapping.

The speakers discussed the cases before the Supreme Court this term that focus on election issues and addressed the background and the future of the federal Voting Rights Act. As it continues to evolve and face challenges – like Section 5, a preclearance requirement – there is an ebb and flow to voter protections in the United States. The group also discussed the 2020 census and ongoing litigation. Traditionally an important tool for redistricting, the census has inspired political debate about counting all residents of the United States – citizens or not – to inform House of Representatives districting boundaries. The Trump administration stopped late census counting in October, which may impact the overall integrity of the 2020 census.

Turning to the Senate, the speakers discussed the Georgia run-off elections and the importance of efforts by community leaders, as well as grassroots efforts to expand access to voting in the last few election cycles. Increased overall voter turnout, particularly by voters of color, may have been the result of ongoing population studies in Georgia aimed at closing the gap in voter margins by focusing on marginalized voters.

Meredith and Kareem examined voting as part of a larger pattern of civic engagement, with sustained efforts at the local, state, and national levels being critical to keeping voter suppression at bay and ensuring access to voting for everyone. Leveraging tools and making investments in traditionally underserved communities helps to build systems and structures for civic engagement and allows those communities to recognize their own power. When asked how Americans can help protect voting rights and increase engagement, the panelists recommended becoming a poll worker, which is real-life experience that is helpful in learning the ins and outs of the voting process. Additionally, they recommended seeking local opportunities to become involved – on school boards or local councils – or donating to 501(c)(3) organizations and local candidates. The time between elections is when critical work happens and is a great time for interested parties to start on their path to deeper civic involvement.

This event was part of Venable’s Moments and Movements speaker series. Prior events and updates can be found here.