The stage is set for women to be a driving force in 2020. Ensuring access to the voting booth is an important part of YWCA’s commitment to eliminating racism and empowering women and is critical to ensuring a healthy, safe, empowered future for our communities. From helping domestic violence survivors vote safely to securing transportation to the polls for YW housing residents to hosting text-banking trainings for community volunteers, we know YWomen Vote.
Explains clinical intern Gina Clawson: “As social workers, part of our obligation is to advance human rights and social and economic justice. Voting is one way we can accomplish this, and advocating for women’s rights is especially important to the population we serve.”
Clawson and fellow intern Pamela Venard organized a Get Out the Vote drive for all YW clients and residents to demystify the process and meet them where they are – literally.
“Right here in the central building, we’ll be assisting our ladies with registering to vote and checking to make sure that their registration is up-to-date if they are already registered. We will also be assisting them with requesting absentee ballots if they want, or locating their polling place for them so they have all the information to successfully vote this year,” Venard said.
According to National Voter Registration Day, 60% of eligible voters are never asked to register, especially those in marginalized communities. According to YWCA USA’s YWomen Vote Report, higher voter participation? has been associated with higher employment rates, lower recidivism rates, and more positive health outcomes in communities, as well as increased attention from elected officials and candidates for office. New challenges to the voting process posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, along with pre-existing systemic and historic barriers to the voting booth for communities of color, have made a collective commitment to civic engagement even more critical this election year.
“It is very common to misunderstand voting regulations and rules,” Clawson said. “It’s hard to keep track of deadlines for registration, absentee requests, and early in-person voting. For example, one misconception is that you need a valid excuse to vote by mail; this election, Ohio requires no reason for submitting an absentee ballot.”
The event theme pays homage to two milestone anniversaries in 2020: the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which granted (mostly white) women the right to vote, and the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, which expanded civic engagement protections for people of color.
Due to fleeing violence, many shelter clients have difficulty meeting Ohio in-person voter requirements that include presenting ID, such as an unexpired Ohio driver’s license or current utility bill. YWCA Dayton has on staff a certified application assistant through the Ohio Safe at Home address confidentiality program, which shields survivors’ personal information from public record and provides them with a secure way to participate in the democratic process.
“Clients feel that they have an extra layer of safety and protection, because their location is not posted publicly on the Board of Election website,” explained Lindsay Bohan, shelter manager. “It is an additional way for them to take back control when transitioning out of an abusive relationship. Especially during a presidential election year, shelter clients and community members who have safety concerns around domestic violence, sexual assault, or stalking who wish to vote safely, can reach out to us and register for Safe at Home.”
One of the most important tools citizens can use is creating their voting plan, which encourages individuals to envision themselves voting and identify any potential barriers they might have or encounter, and then solve for them in advance.
“Whether that looks like requesting an absentee ballot, voting early to avoid crowds, or planning for transportation on election day, while in shelter, clients are encouraged to vote and case managers and other shelter staff work with clients to create their personalized voting plan,” Bohan said, noting that some clients have headed to the polls as a group to feel safer with a voting partner.
Visit www.ywcadayton.org/vote now to check your registration, register to vote, or find your polling place.