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Tatyana Ali: Why Every Vote Counts This Election

Some states are setting up Jim Crow-era voting obstacles. Know your rights.
Memory is short.

It’s easy to forget how hard you fought to get to where you are now. It’s easy to forget what you were even fighting for or the price that was paid. Until it gets taken away and regret is what’s left.

It’s time to get to work.

Last year, state legislatures across the country passed new laws that make it harder for people to exercise their right to vote. These new voter registration laws have also been dubbed voter suppression laws because they’ve put into place new rules and requirements for voting that many believe are unconstitutional.

When talking about politics and policies it always helps to understand the context, so here’s a very brief history:

The Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965 to strengthen the 15th Amendment of 1870, which declared during the Reconstruction Era (directly after the civil war) that the right to vote by a citizen of the United States could “not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on the account of race, color or previous condition of servitude”. In the Jim Crow era (around 1876-1965), African Americans were barred from the polls on a state-by-state basis by clever technicalities. Black men and women were told that they had to pass literacy tests or pay poll taxes in order to vote.

Now, states across the United States have passed laws that require photo ID and proof of citizenship in order to vote. Other States shortened the length of time for early voting, even though or because early votes made up over 30% of all votes cast in 2008, when Barack Obama became the first African American President of These United States of America.

However, it’s not right to just blame the powers that be, the “almighty” legislators who passed these laws because guess what, we put them in office. Many of us didn’t vote in the 2010 midterm elections. We allowed our representation to be decided for us. Only 10% of African-Americans showed up at the polls instead of the 13% that showed up in 2008, and there was a 60% drop in youth voters ages 18-29. The governors and legislators that were elected in 2010 put these voter suppression laws into place in 2011.

Can you see what’s going on? This is not a coincidence. We fall right back into our invisible role when we abstain from voting. For many of those in power, the point is to keep people like you and me, our agendas, our rights, our concerns and issues, our values out. The systematic tearing down of our freedoms and rights is on purpose. These voting laws were passed to keep black and brown people, minorities, the elderly, students and low-income citizens away from the polls in this year’s Presidential election specifically. This election could be decided on a set of unconstitutional technicalities. This election could be decided on a set of Neo-Jim Crow laws!
There are people in these states fighting to reverse the legislation. The ACLU and other organizations are taking the argument to the courts. But come early voting season and in November most of the laws will still be in place.

That means its up to us, the people, to come together, to vote, to remember and to arm ourselves with the facts. Do you want to regret this moment? With so much at stake, what will we say? That we couldn’t make time? That we were tricked and turned away?

It’s time to get to work because every vote will matter in November.

Below you’ll find a list of the states affected:

Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Wisconsin

Click here to get registered to vote or if you’re unsure of the new rules of your state.

Please take the time to review what you may need to bring on Tuesday, November 6. Check the new schedules and rules if you’re voting early or absentee. And, please review all of the requirements because you may currently be ineligible to vote in this election.

Best known for her role as “Ashley Banks” on the iconic TV series The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, actress and Harvard grad Tatyana Ali will spend this summer and fall as a surrogate for the Obama for America campaign, speaking to communities about the importance of voting. She can soon be seen in the highly anticipated BET comedy, Second Generation Wayans.

Photo by Richard Knapp