Read more articles by Betsy Gardner

By Betsy Gardner • November 6, 2020

“When you talk about the landscape of disenfranchisement, the census and voting are two areas where you have the most proficient, most nuanced — at every step of the process — ways to block people of color from accessing any portion of their democracy,” said Elena Needle. As part of the Anchor Collaborative, a national, multi-racial group of organizations that fights for racial equity, Needle is very familiar with the ways in which voting rights are suppressed in communities of color. 


The Anchor Collaborative uses GIS mapping to track democratic representation and participation among people of color, and collects data on voter suppression through their We Vote We Count website. Although their work is national, there are many local organizations and governments that are using maps and data to support historically-marginalized voters within their cities or counties.


Voter Assistance Centers in Yolo County

Yolo County, California has a large Latinx population and nearly a quarter of the total population identifies as Spanish-speaking. Voters of Hispanic descent are the largest non-white voting bloc in the country, according to the Pew Research Center, yet they still face discrimination and voter suppression efforts.  In Yolo County, officials wanted to provide more assistance to voters, especially anyone who needed facsimile ballots in other languages, extra help registering, or just had general questions about the process. 


To do this, Yolo elections officials replaced the traditional polling places with 12 Voter Assistance Centers where eligible residents could receive information and assistance about their ballots. The county’s Elections Office partnered with local jurisdictions and school districts to make sure that all the locations were fairly spread throughout the communities and could accommodate safe social distancing. Finally, election officials mapped out all the Voting Assistance Centers and ballot drop-boxes so that voters could easily find the most convenient location.  


Wait Times in Weld County

The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated voting this year, as many voters are opting to vote by mail or are utilizing early voting services to avoid crowds. However, there can still be long lines and crowding at early voting locations; in order to assist people with making the safest and easiest voting choices, places like Weld County have created maps that display voting locations and wait times. This helps people make informed decisions about when and where to vote during the pandemic.


Additionally, this data could also help identify discrepancies in voting wait times. For example, if the data shows that there were overwhelmingly long lines in certain areas of the county or at locations that are more frequently used by non-white voters, then that information can help root out voter suppression. It can also guide the Elections Office when they decide where to host polling locations in the next election. 


Senior Voting Access in Richmond

Currently, older voters are a very vulnerable demographic, as they are at a much higher risk of catching COVID-19. For those that will be voting in person, accessibility is also an issue. The Democracy Labs created a map that shows how close senior living centers are to polling locations. The map contains multiple overlays, including ones that outline the walkable distances from polling stations and which areas require car or bus rides. 


Armed with this information, local officials and nonprofits can help create safe senior voting plans and holder voters get to the polls. This is particularly important in Richmond, as a significant percentage of senior voters are Black. Failing to provide safe and accessible poll access hurts two groups of voters. 


One final thing that all of these data maps can help with is sorting out the truth of voter suppression or deterrents from fiction. Recently, Director of the Brennan Center's Voting Rights and Elections Program Myrna Pérez discussed how to identify and report on voter suppression. Director Pérez cautioned that the voting landscape in the United States is extensive and varied, with issues in one state or county irrelevant in another. Maps like the ones above can help identify the specific issues in each area, while tracking if and what kind of suppression or support each area offers.