Jerika Richardson is the Senior Vice President of Equitable Justice and Strategic Initiatives at the National Urban League (NUL), a historic civil rights organization founded in 1908 committed to economic development to help underserved urban communities. Last Tuesday, NUL and other non-profit organizations worked together to bring voter awareness on National Voter Registration Day.
Leaders like Richardson empower Americans by collaborating with organizations at national and local levels, policymakers and corporate partners to improve African Americans' quality of life. The National Urban League spearheads the development of social programs and authoritative public policy research, and advocates for policies and services that close the equality gap.
“We are laser-focused on registering voters and raising awareness about registration opportunities because we think it's important to foster an inclusive democracy,” Richardson told The Plug.
NUL is one of the partners of National Voter Registration Day (NVRD), a civil holiday celebrated on the fourth Tuesday of every September when thousands of nonprofits spread awareness of voter registration opportunities and provide resources before state and local elections.
“When I showed up to the polls along with many of my classmates, our names were not on the list,” Richardson told The Plug. “You just need to know your status because it's really disheartening to be at your assigned polling location and to find your name not on the list.”
Voting rates for Black Americans have held relatively constant in presidential elections since the 1980s. According to a Census report, Black voter turnout was 65.2 percent in 2008, within 1 percentage point of 66.1 percent for whites.
In 2012, Black voter turnout (66.6 percent) surpassed white votes (64.1 percent). The voter turnout dropped to 59.6 percent for Black in the 2016 elections compared to 65.3 percent for white voters.
There was a large racial voter gap in the 2020 Presidential election. A Brennan Center analysis reported that 58.4 percent of non-white voters were counted compared to 70.9 from white voters, with the Black voter gap growing from 5.9 percent in 2016 to 8.3 percent in 2020.
Despite the turnouts, Black people face voter disenfranchisement from gerrymandering and suppression. In Georgia, then Secretary of State Brian Kemp put a hold on 50,000 voter registrations for the 2018 presidential election, 70 percent of those registrations being from Black voters. In the 2016 elections, several states like Texas, Arizona and Georgia closed voting poll locations gutting the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which outlaws discriminatory voting practices.
Following the 2020 Presidential Elections results, organizations and advocacy groups demanded stronger legislation for protecting voting rights. Major companies like Apple and Best Buy collectively signed a letter urging Congress to enhance voter rights. Black owners also advocated for other major companies to support pro-voter legislation.
Black legislators and candidates are taking steps to encourage Black voters. A 2013 study on Black representation and voter mobilization in the 2008 election found there was a higher impact to vote when Black state legislators met in-person with disengaged voters.
Increased diversity provides more voter opportunities. Elections polls from last year’s elections in Georgia show that 93 percent of voters support Democratic parties that are for Black issues. People of Color in office such as Rev. Raphael Warnock prove that primarily Black communities will vote for candidates like them.
A report by Brookings Institute found that when community goals are met, more Black Americans are likely to vote. Black candidates can encourage more Black voters when they address issues affecting Black communities and forge ahead policies that improve the lives of working people and minorities.
The NVRD is a holiday companies across the country use to inform new and returning voters on policies and election readiness.
“We really want to make sure that they take the time to look up the various regulations in their state. It's important that they're able to meaningfully engage in spite of some suppressive voting legislation that is on the books right now,” Richardson said.
According to 2020 U.S. Census data, 1 in 4 eligible Americans are not registered to vote. Some Americans miss the deadline, did not update their voter status or do not know how to register. A Kaiser Family Foundation report found that 69 percent of Black people were registered to vote in the 2020 Presidential election, but 62.6 percent voted.
“We want to really integrate people into the democratic process regularly. We think it's critically important to create a culture of civic engagement,” Richardson said.