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Democrats Emphasize Voting Rights On Final Night Of DNC

Aug 21, 2020
Originally published on August 21, 2020 11:20 am
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The Democratic National Convention has come to a close, but the party's push for voting rights has not. Here's NPR's Miles Parks.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: In Georgia's 5th Congressional District, Nikema Williams is the Democrat running for the seat held for 33 years by voting rights hero John Lewis.

NIKEMA WILLIAMS: I grew up being raised by my grandparents, who instilled in me the importance of voting. So this is very much at the core of who I am.

PARKS: She remembers being a small child riding around in a pickup truck with her grandfather and her uncle.

WILLIAMS: Who lived two doors down - my Uncle Willie James.

PARKS: In rural Alabama, handing things out to people.

WILLIAMS: As we would drive through the neighborhood, it was my job to jump off and go and drop off the cards so that people knew who to vote for.

PARKS: She didn't realize at the time that she was canvassing.

WILLIAMS: But now I do as I go through my own process of reminding people to go out and vote - that that's exactly what my grandpa and his brother was doing at the time. And I didn't understand it as a child, but it ingrained in me the importance of voting.

PARKS: This past June, on her 10th wedding anniversary, Williams waited five hours in line to vote in Georgia's primary. In John Lewis's district, she says, voting rights isn't just part of a platform. It is the platform.

WILLIAMS: We need to get this right because all of the other issues that we care about are on the line. If we cannot have free and fair elections and elect leaders of our choice, then we can't get to all of the other policy issues that we care about.

PARKS: It's not just in voting rights hotspots like Georgia, though. Democrats nationwide are seizing on President Trump's attacks on the Postal Service, voting by mail and the legitimacy of the results.

DAVID COHEN: A lot of these issues are part of the American political conversation right now in a way that they haven't been in the past.

PARKS: That's David Cohen from Forward Majority, a Democratic super PAC focused specifically on redistricting and voting rights battles at the state level. Forward Majority ran a test in Virginia last year using mailers that touched on voting rights themes. They found those sorts of messages to be a driving force for Democrats.

COHEN: Just by including simple language about how, you know, generations that came before us have fought for the right to vote, and it's now essential that we all exercise that right is really motivating, especially to the Democratic base.

PARKS: It's clear Democrats have gotten the memo. Here's former President Barack Obama this week.

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BARACK OBAMA: Do what Americans have done for over two centuries when faced with even tougher times than this.

PARKS: The urgency Democrats feel right now can also be seen in the numbers. In Florida and North Carolina, requests for mail ballots by Democrats are far outpacing those of Republicans.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: The numbers in Florida really are eye-popping. Registered Democrats are outpacing the registered Republicans in mail ballot requests by over 660,000 ballot requests.

PARKS: That's Michael McDonald, a University of Florida political science professor who studies voter turnout.

MCDONALD: We can look to the past and see these efforts to gin up outrage and try to motivate people to vote that way. This is a just on a whole new level. It's daily.

PARKS: And often, it's in reaction to Trump's statements. But McDonald says he worries that outrage could make Democratic voters less trusting of election results long term, which is a slippery slope for a functioning democracy.

MCDONALD: We have to have faith that our elections are going to be run fairly in order for us to have legitimacy with our democratic government. And, you know, this is a short-term political play. But it has long term corrosive effects on democracy.

PARKS: For Democrats in 2020, it's clear that's a tradeoff they're willing to make. Miles Parks, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.