League of Women Voters of Greater Omaha members Cynde Glismann, Joanna Lindberg, Lilia Franciscony, and MaryLee Moulton discuss the monumental opportunities to expand voting access in Nebraska and across the country.
JL: There are two bills that we are looking at, the Freedom to Vote Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, that would expand voting access nationwide. What I really like about the Freedom to Vote Act is that it restores voting rights to citizens again once they’re not incarcerated. Immediately upon their release, they’re allowed to vote, and I think that’s a very good way to stop disenfranchisement for those formerly incarcerated citizens.
MM: The nice thing about the bill is that really it means that if you’re a citizen, whether you’re in California or Mississippi or Wisconsin, you have the same basic rights in going to vote across the country. It’s just so disparate right now as far as what the rules are. Another thing we’ve seen in the last year, we’ve just finished with redistricting across all these states and this bill would ban partisan gerrymandering. A lot of states are fighting and have taken to court over some of the gerrymandering that they’re seeing. So this bill addresses some of the partisanship seen in that process.
LF: A few years ago I was in a working environment where there were a lot of people from other countries. For the most part, they were all citizens already, and they were not aware that they were able to go to vote. They didn’t know that they already had that right, and one of the reasons that they didn’t exercise that right was the fear that they were going to be asked to present some sort of ID. So I think that emphasizes the work that we do in educating new citizens in the process of voting.
MM: We could get into the voter ID issue. Voter ID places a burden on voters, it doesn’t make it safer. It makes it harder to vote, and you have fewer people vote when you have voter ID. People have to understand that voting isn’t a privilege; it is a right. It’s not something that should be subject to a long list of hoops you have to jump through. It’s a fundamental right in our constitution.
JL: I feel really lucky about our work. This corps of people that are here today helped promote the Votercade [for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act], which was our first chance to be out in public again. We had all been isolated, and on May 8th we all got together. It was with the leadership of the Urban Indian Health Center, the Latino Midlands Association, the Heartland Workers Center, Black Votes Matter, and Civic Nebraska. People were almost giddy at this event, and committed, you know. It was an opportunity for education and involvement and participation, so that was our first group effort into something like that.
LF: It was a party! It felt like a real party. The excitement, the exchange, decorating the cars, saying hello to people you haven’t seen in a long time, it was very exciting! I was just waving at people, people were waving back and smiling, giving thumbs up, the excitement even on the street was great. And then there were some characters like MaryLee, whenever you turned around there she was with her camera. She looked like an international reporter. The excitement was fabulous. We knew even though we all had masks on that we were all smiling. There was, I believe, aline of over over 50 cars!
CG: It really brought attention to the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and just spurred the momentum for the whole summer and fall. You know, we really have been following it through Congress. We just do our best to educate everyone that we can, everyone that we come into contact with either virtually, on social media, through our website, or face to face now when we get the opportunity.
JL: Our organization started as suffragists, and voting rights are sacred. It took us 72 years to get those rights. So to think that they are being taken away is just, I think, an enormous bruise on our feminist history. I mean we're back to the suffragists having to fight and get arrested and having to just say "no more, we can't take it, we have rights to vote!"
MM: And to be perfectly honest, the membership of the League has really risen to the challenge of COVID. I mean, we could have just kind of gone away, and not really engaged, because we were so cut off from each other. But through technology and grit and determination, we have people who really put their time in and really worked on some of these things and tried to be inventive and creative and have really stepped forward to make sure that voting rights don't get forgotten. We did a lot of work and a lot of education on the vote-by-mail, and I think that was really really helpful to the citizens of Nebraska. Regardless of how the 2020 election turned out and all of the blowback now against vote-by-mail, I think that we continue to promote its safety. All of our elected officials in Nebraska said that we had no election problems at all here in Nebraska. That kind of education is super important in an atmosphere where you've got so much disinformation out there.
LF: The League has risen as a source of information and the organization to go to with all voting-related matters. Many people religiously use the voter's guide that is published by the League as guidance about what are the issues, what are the candidates, what are they saying? It is a source that is highly respected. The status of the League, in Nebraska and nationally, has grown and has become a force, a trustworthy and respected organization nationally, and of course here in Nebraska.
CG: I personally feel so strongly that every single person's voice should be heard. I mean that's what democracy is all about: everyone is equally important, their voice is equally important, and they have the constitutional right to be heard. There is no reason that they should not be heard. I will work every day of my life to make sure there is no obstacle in the way of someone's voice being heard, that is their right.
LF: As an immigrant who came to this country almost 40 years ago, I know what it means to not be heard, to be harassed when you try to vote, to be restricted in many ways, and to be simply ignored. The only way that I have in my hands to pay back, to participate, to be responsible for the goodness that I have received was by raising my voice and voting. And of course then to dedicate my work to that. That's when I've found the League of Women Voters. I say, well, in this country, here you have a voice and your voice is your vote. The fight that we have against voter suppression is an alarm. That, for me, is one of the things that has inspired participation in the process, and the channel has been the League of Women Voters.
JL: I would say my devotion to voting and democracy starts with that I was a social worker. I worked with people of limited means, people that are vulnerable, and they have as much a right to vote as anyone. This idea of restricting people when voting can be very intimidating. I have an anger, to think that you would intimidate peoples’ vote when their representation is tantamount to us having a fair democracy. My grandkids, when they write things to me, they always put "vote" in there, because they know how critical that is! And the refugees, to think of all these people coming here that then are intimidated to vote? Mm. That just does not fly.