ITHACA, N.Y.—Mayor Svante Myrick took to social media Friday afternoon to announce a project he and other elected officials nationwide have been working on to protect Black voting rights across the country in advance of the 2020 presidential election on Nov. 3.

The project, pointedly named “Defend the Black Vote,” aims to educate and inform Black voters, specifically young men, about the upcoming election and where and how they can fill out their ballot, in the absence of legislative action that would restore national protections for Black voters from vote suppression efforts. The founders of the effort are elected officials under the age of 35, and it is being operated through the organization People for the American Way.

“Voting has already started, and in Black neighborhoods in particular, those lines are longer than in white neighborhoods,” Myrick said. “Why is that? Because of a coordinated, decades-long campaign to disenfranchise Black voters, the keystone of that campaign being the 2013 decision of the Supreme Court to basically destroy the Voting Rights Act.”

The Voting Rights Act was signed into law in 1965 by President Lyndon B. Johnson, aimed at stopping certain states and localities from employing discriminatory practices to suppress voting and circumvent the 15th Amendment which said a male citizen would not lose the right to vote based on race. Before it was signed into law, extraneous tasks like literacy tests were used to try to render Black voters ineligible, or other unnecessary tests like having to recite the Constitution prior to filling out a ballot. The legislation was a landmark achievement of the Civil Rights movement at the time. In the wake of the death of Congressman John Lewis in July, a bill named the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was approved in the House of Representatives, which would restore the law and update it to the modern day, but it has sat idle since then as the Republican-controlled Senate has opted not to consider it.

Myrick said the long lines are the most visible example of voter suppression, but that misinformation efforts regarding voting times, locations, candidates and more are also rampant in the Black community, a phenomenon Myrick blamed on right-wing activists and foreign state actors. In response, Myrick said the project’s efforts have distributed “over two million text messages to over one million voters” telling recipients how to fill out mail-in ballots, where to go to vote early, accurate voting deadlines, and more. Black men between the ages of 18-50 in swing states are the project’s primary demographic focus, since that group: according to Pew Research Center, 54 percent of Black men reported voting in 2016. The group is also utilizing tele-town halls and an advertising campaign to get the word out.

Myrick said the effort has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to this point, which will go towards the advertising buys and sustaining the effort until election day.

“We think we can start a non-partisan effort,” Myrick said. “No matter who you are voting for, I hope you can agree that our nation is better when more people are involved in the democratic process, and that means protecting the vote of a group of people that have been denied for hundreds of years the right to vote, and for the last several decades that right being actively undermined and attacked.”

Those interested in volunteering can visit the project’s website to sign up.

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is the Education & Public Health Reporter at the Ithaca Voice. He can be reached by email at mbutler@ithacavoice.com