It’s a stretch to say COVID-19 disrupted our voting and election systems here in the U.S. As is the case with many of our current social and political challenges, the pandemic merely exposed the deep flaws and unfairness in how citizens are too often denied their voting rights. We've seen this play out in the long lines in the Wisconsin and Georgia primaries.
This current reality unfolded over time largely by design: The Founding Fathers didn’t trust the people to vote directly for president, and states with smaller populations wanted guarantees that their rights wouldn’t be overrun roughshod by what were the largest states in late 18th-century America: Virginia and Pennsylvania.
But those technicalities don’t excuse the fact that now, in the 21st century, far too many U.S. citizens confront hurdles, state by state, when it comes to exercising their right to vote. That is especially true in Florida, where over a million formerly incarcerated citizens who have already paid their debt to society have been denied access to the ballot box.
To that end, LeBron James’ voting rights coalition, More Than a Vote, is determined to raise the funds needed to pay off the fees imposed on citizens with past felony records so they can cast their decisions at the ballot box during this November’s federal election.
The problem in Florida is that in the 2018 election, voters by almost a 30-point margin approved Amendment 4, which reinstated the voting rights to an estimated 1.4 million Floridians who had past felony convictions. The state’s legislature and governor, however, soon responded by passing a law that required those same citizens to pay any outstanding fines, fees and other financial penalties before they could vote again.
In swoops James and his organization, which is now partnering with the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC). The Orlando-based group has established a “fines and fees” fund to help Floridians pay off any such debts. More Than a Vote announced last week it would raise $100,000 and contribute it to FRRC’s fund, which to date has raised over $1.5 million for this campaign.
More Than a Vote has won the support of additional professional athletes, including Miami Heat forward Udonis Haslem, who last week told Politico, “Your right to vote shouldn’t depend upon whether or not you can pay to exercise it.”
While professional athletes and actors, along with former First Lady Michelle Obama, are leading the fight to ensure U.S. citizens’ voting rights, the private sector has been relatively silent.
The silence is deafening: Fears of uncertainty over what could happen this November, should the presidential election be a close one, would rattle the markets and risk even more economic chaos in addition to how the COVID-19 pandemic has already wreaked havoc across the U.S.
But despite those threats, the roster of companies speaking out is rather thin.
True, some coalitions working on bolstering voting rights are out there, including Time to Vote, which made some waves before the 2018 midterms, but has been silent since February. Patagonia is a leading example of a company that has been very vocal about voting rights, taking many steps including the closing of its doors so employees could vote on Election Day. The outdoor clothing and gear company is also partnering with Business for America, a nonprofit group that is pressuring the U.S. Congress to reform federal voting laws and secure the funds necessary so elections can run smoothly across the country.
Few companies, however, are willing to speak out on ensuring that U.S. election laws work for everyone, despite the fact that the current polarization of our political systems doesn’t bode well for either the economy or our collective well-being.
“This system disincentivizes elected leaders from working together to identify risks, overcome obstacles, and reach consensus on common-sense solutions so we can run safe, secure, and accessible elections — even during a public health crisis,” Business for America wrote in a Medium post earlier this year. “Political dysfunction and election chaos are bad for our businesses, employees, customers, communities, and country.”
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Leon Kaye has written for TriplePundit since 2010, and became its Executive Editor in 2018. He's based in Fresno, CA, from where he happily explores California’s stellar Central Coast and the national parks in the Sierra Nevadas. He's worked an lived in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay, and has traveled to over 70 countries. He's an alum of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California.