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Fighting for Voting Rights

James Steinberger is making sure everyone gets a vote in the 2020 election

THE INSPIRATION: Back in 2016, James Steinberger learned about gerrymandering—a silly-sounding word for a sinister form of voter suppression. Politicians use voter suppression to sway outcomes in an election. In gerrymandering, for example, the borders of a congressional or local legislative district are redrawn to load it with more of a politician’s supporters. “I was amazed to learn that democracy isn’t as safe as I thought,” the 18-year-old says. “People can use nefarious tactics to advance their own agendas.” Other forms of voter suppression include poll taxes (essentially making voters pay to vote), laws requiring voters show legal identification at the polls (not everyone has a government-issued I.D.), and voter roll purges (removing eligible voters from lists of who is registered to vote). In many states these tactics can unfairly affect voters of color (see “How Voter I.D. Laws Can Impact People of Color”). James was determined to fight voter suppression in the 2020 presidential election.

THE ACTION: Last summer, James was excited to learn about a virtual internship with Students for Justice, a group fighting voter suppression. “I wanted to help give people a voice,” he says.

Interns like James helped make public service announcements and recruited volunteers to encourage people to register and vote. James also hand-wrote and mailed more than 500 postcards to people who might have lost their voter eligibility (for example, by being erroneously removed from the voter rolls without their knowledge) so they could ensure their votes were counted on election day. “We encouraged them to check their registration and make sure that they’re prepared to vote,” he says.

He also called potential voters to spread the same message, but his favorite form of activism was writing the postcards. “It’s a lot easier to get your information when it’s staring you in the face,” he says.

 

James handwrites a postcard encouraging a voter to make sure their vote is counted on election day.

THE OUTCOME: There are no results yet about the impact Students for Justice had on voter turnout for the 2020 election, but past efforts have helped increase turnout by rural voters of color by up to 35 percent. Regardless of the outcome of the election, James feels satisfied he’s doing his part to help fight voter suppression. “I tried to make the information as accessible as possible, then leave it to voters to determine whether or not they’re interested. There’s really nothing anyone can do after that.” As he takes a gap year before heading to college, he’s already dreaming of law school and a future in politics.

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