By Maria Saporta
The Southern Poverty Law Center will invest $30 million from its endowment to support voter outreach organizations in the Deep South to increase voter registration and participation among people of color with a lower propensity to vote.
The initiative, called “Vote Your Voice,” is focused on increasing voter participation specifically in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana and Mississippi, beginning in 2020 and running through 2022.
“This initiative is especially important right now, as millions of people across the country feel the urgency to make our voices heard this fall after the continued silence from our leaders on the many black people being killed by police,” said Margaret Huang, SLPC’s president and CEO. “Voting won’t solve this problem the day after the election. But in order to begin dismantling white supremacy, we need to ensure that every voter of color is able to cast their ballot without interference or hardship.”
The “Vote Your Voice” initiative is a partnership with the Community Foundation for Greater Atlanta, which will administer grants up to a total of $30 million that will be available for nonprofit, nonpartisan activities through 2022. The grants will help organizations navigate how to reach their constituents amidst the pandemic among other obstacles.
“We are proud to partner with Southern Poverty Law Center to target education and mobilization efforts that support a robust, and fair, election process,” said Lita Parti, vice president of community for the Community Foundation. “We must all work to end systemic barriers that deny our citizens their right to vote, especially in Black communities across the South.”
Numerous organizations across the five states are working to promote voter participation and reach communities of color, returning citizens and young people, but they are struggling to secure resources to further their outreach amid the COVID-19 pandemic, an era of social distancing, and major economic recession.
“The work ahead of us will not be easy,” Huang said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has and will continue to have a disproportionate impact on democratic participation for communities of color who have been harmed most deeply by the health and economic crisis and who will encounter greater barriers to voter participation given the new risks of voting in person on Election Day.”
Other “Vote Your Voice” goals include:
- Reconnecting with constituencies that have faced and continue to face barriers to voting – focusing on returning citizens, voters of color and those who have been purged from voter rolls.
- Engaging voters who are often ignored by outreach programs, including low-propensity voters of color and voters of color who live outside of major metro areas.
- Building greater capacity for voter outreach work to combat voter suppression by providing multi-year support through the 2022 election cycle.
- Funding and supporting organizations that are led by people of color.
The SPLC and the Community Foundation will award their first round of grants in early July and a second round later in the summer. Organizations that work with communities of color have been invited to submit grant applications as part of the first round. The second round will be conducted through an open Request for Proposals process.
“Vote Your Voice” builds on the SPLC’s ongoing voting rights work to enable every citizen in the Deep South the opportunity to have their voice heard at the ballot box. In the past two years, the SPLC invested a combined $2 million to help pass the Amendment 4 ballot initiative in Florida as well as to increase voter registration and turn-out in Louisiana and Mississippi state elections.
Meanwhile, in federal courts, the SPLC has successfully sued Florida on its unconstitutional poll tax and has ongoing litigation challenging Mississippi’s lifetime voting ban for citizens with certain felony convictions.
The SPLC was founded by Alabama lawyer and businessman Morris Dees in 1971 to ensure the promise of the civil rights movement would become a reality.
Dees joined forces with another young Montgomery lawyer, Joe Levin. They took pro bono cases civil rights cases that few others were willing to pursue. The late Julian Bond of Atlanta was SPLC’s first president.