I’m a KU alum and a Jayhawk basketball fan. Until the world turned upside down in 2020, my favorite spring activities were basketball and St. Patrick’s Day. There was no March Madness 2020 and March Madness 2021 didn’t really include my favorite team. Of course, there was no St. Patrick’s Day at all.
But this year I had another score to watch—that of voter suppression versus voter engagement and empowerment, all over the country and here at home. The opponents have been running up the score on us.
In November 2020, the League of Women Voters was celebrating the highest voter turnout in a century. According to the Washington Post, 66.3 percent of the voting eligible population turned out for the presidential election. The next highest at 65.7 percent was in 1908 when, by the way, women, African Americans, Native Americans and Asian Americans weren’t eligible to vote at all.
In Kansas, statewide turnout in 2020 was 65.7 percent. This broke a 40-year record set in 1992. Voting in Shawnee County was up 19 percent from 2016 countywide, and up 29 percent in our League’s seven targeted March to the Polls precincts. Increases in turnout happened safely during a Pandemic, with voting officials working to expand opportunities.
But the backlash started almost immediately and picked up steam. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, mid-February saw 253 bills designed to restrict voting. By mid-March, there were 361 bills with restrictive provisions in 47 states, up 43 percent in a month. Instead of celebrating gains in voting participation, the bedrock of our democracy, legislators responded to unfounded allegations of voter fraud and election irregularities by trying to shut down voter participation.
Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab has said elections in our state were safe and fraud-free. Yet the Kansas Legislature introduced and passed voter suppression bills HB2183 and HB 2332, which were sent to the Governor’s desk April 8.
According to the LWV Policy Watch, some of the provisions of these bills would:
- Make it a crime for a person to return more than 10 mail-in ballots for others.
- Make it a misdemeanor for a candidate to help any voter other than those in their immediate family.
- Remove officials’ ability to allow additional time for ballots to be returned in case of an emergency.
- Make it a felony for election offices to receive grants or donations from any source other than appropriations or fees.
- Impose strict requirements on mailing applications for advance ballots and who can send out applications.
The League opposed these bills. It remains to be seen if the Governor will veto them and the legislature fail to overturn her veto.
Sometimes it’s easy to feel discouraged when the other team is running up the score on you. But like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” Let’s strengthen our team to expand and protect voting for all Americans by engaging our members and collaborating with our community. We have work to do, and I’m looking forward to working with our LWVTSC team. We’ve got the talent and tenacity to win.
I’m still celebrating the outcome of our voter education efforts against Pandemic odds last year. I’m celebrating 94-year-old Opal Lee, who is coming to Topeka April 23-24 to lobby for making Juneteenth a national holiday. I’m celebrating planning our first League Learning Extra, a webinar April 27 to kick off our part of the People Powered Fair Maps national League of Women Voters effort on redistricting.