Opinion: This month of Juneteenth, we must continue to protect our democracy

Opinion: This month of Juneteenth, we must continue to protect our democracy

Photo of voters speaking with poll workers. Source: Getty Image

By Amanda Green-Hawkins

June 26, 2024

In light of Juneteenth, Pennsylvania community leader Amanda Green-Hawkins emphasizes the importance of protecting our democracy and securing the right to vote for every eligible American in the upcoming 2024 election. 

During the 2020 election, Pennsylvania and the rest of the country saw a number of nonpartisan poll workers and election judges come under threat – and even physical assault – because of unfounded conspiracy theories and election denial. Martin Luther King III and Arndrea Waters King recently observed in Newsweek “the racialized nature of these attacks” and the “link between protecting poll workers of color…and the civil rights framework.” 

Unfortunately, being on the receiving end of this kind of behavior has long been par for the course for the African-American community, and is certainly not limited to taking place at the voting booth. As we commemorate the end of slavery, we must look forward to making the promise of America real. That promise includes the right of every eligible American to vote, and this year our focus must be on securing the ballot for those Americans, on both sides, on Election Day 2024.

Since the 1960s, when landmark civil-rights legislation was enacted, many African Americans – especially African-American women – have served as poll workers and now make up a disproportionate number of election volunteers. Here in Pittsburgh, where I live and work, I’ve met many women and men from our community who report to duty every election year and take great pride in the role they play in protecting the integrity of the vote.

Just to be clear, poll workers are not political campaign workers. They are nonpartisan personnel who staff polling places, tally the votes, and ensure the smooth and proper legal process that maintains Americans’ trust in our election system. In a testament to the African-American community’s enduring faith in our Constitution’s promise even in the face of discrimination, Ishena Robinson from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund has described these volunteers as “guardians of a democracy that continues to marginalize them.”

Some might wonder why these volunteers continue on in this way. Well, it’s because they know that the right to have one’s vote counted accurately and honestly is as fundamental to our democracy and freedom as being able to submit a ballot in the first place. Between the time polls close on Election Day and winners for president and other state and federal offices are certified, a carefully prescribed process is meant to ensure that those who enter these offices are indeed the same individuals legitimately elected by the people.

Historically, following this process is where our nation has excelled, even when ballot access on the front end to communities like ours has been curtailed. And this same process was followed in the 2020 Election, despite widespread misinformation to the contrary.

The misinformation campaign had a purpose – a purpose to cast doubt on the legitimate election results and to deny African-American and other minority communities full participation in our democracy.

 And to an extent, that campaign worked. The 2020 election was — according to former President Trump’s very own Department of Homeland Security — “the most secure in American history,” but a significant number of voters still doubt the results of that election to this day.

That’s why this year I’ve been working with the nonpartisan organization Keep Our Republic in Pittsburgh and across the Commonwealth. Our mission is to help citizens become better informed about the role poll workers and election judges play and what the legal process looks like when it works as intended. This work will continue as we approach Election Day and the critical weeks that follow it.

In the meantime, all Americans must remember that we can never take our freedom and democracy for granted. Instead, we must stay vigilant and fight to protect the rights our forefathers worked so hard to win for us – and the tried and true processes that sustain them.

Author

  • Amanda Green-Hawkins

    Amanda Green-Hawkins is Associate Counsel for the United Steelworks and a former Allegheny County Councilmember and nominee for Superior Court judge. She is a member of the Pennsylvania advisory council of Keep Our Republic, a civic education nonprofit.

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