A little over a week after the presidential election has ended, many voting rights watchers are reflecting on all that we learned through this year’s campaigns: what went right, what went wrong, and the unresolved challenges that remain ahead. As for the overall takeaway, Advancement Project director Judith Browne-Dianis wraps it up nicely, saying, “The national conversation around voting rights was amplified like we haven’t seen since 1965.” This year, more Americans arguably learned more about the voting process than any year in recent memory. Civil rights and election protection campaigns made people aware of things like the difference between a poll watcher and a poll observer; how people use data to purge voters; and what voters’ general rights are while standing in poll lines. On a more nuanced level, the discussion around voter ID laws gave Americans a greater understanding of not only how many people don’t have government-issued ID, but also the reasons why.
Probably most importantly, though, many Americans learned–or at least were reminded–about the history of our democracy, of how civil rights heroes helped the nation realize that democracy, by forcing an expansion of the electorate, which at core is an expansion of citizenship. “Americans began to recognize that democracy was under assault,” says Browne-Dianis of the past year. “And rather than concede to this partisan effort to restrict their vote as an insurmountable setback, they saw it as a challenge to be met.”
The effort to meet that challenge produced both victories and some remaining battles, but there are some specific lessons we can take away from each.