Opinion: Overcome voting roadblocks this year to fight injustice

Rory Gamble

Since the UAW was established in 1935, we have fought for workers’ rights to have a voice in their work and life experiences. From health care, to safety conditions, to the overall work environment, the United Auto Workers and its membership have been at the forefront in making sure those affected by a process or system have a voice in how it is run.

We have worked together — our brothers and sisters and our communities — to ensure a rewarding, safe and positive future for all. As individuals we also have an avenue, and responsibility, to enhance that collective voice — by voting.

Why is your voice, your vote, so critically important?

Right now, across the nation, we are in the midst of an unprecedented crisis on many levels. We are in a pandemic, with the economy at risk but more important, the health of our people at stake.

And we are in the midst of the ongoing struggle for equality and equity, the battle against systemic injustice, and the fear of being a person of color in America.

We are in the midst of the ongoing struggle for equality and equity, the battle against systemic injustice, and the fear of being a person of color in America, Gamble writes.

Our economy and employment of our people is in crisis. In order to come back from the effects of this crisis on jobs and unemployment, we need leaders focusing on investments in new technology, increasing demand for American-made products, investing in our worksites and our auto manufacturing facilities and creating new safe jobs.

But how? By voting.

Many fought to overcome roadblocks to voting in our nation’s history through blood and sacrifice. As the late great friend of the UAW Congressman John Lewis noted, “I have said this before, and I will say it again. The vote is precious. It is almost sacred. It is the most powerful non-violent tool we have in a democracy.”

But voting still has roadblocks. The coronavirus pandemic is making in-person polling a questionable activity just as absentee and mail-in voting is hitting partisan snags in Washington, D.C. Some in power, out of political expediency, attempt to block access to mail-in voting out of petty concerns of which party would benefit more than the other. Worse, there is rhetoric undermining the legitimacy of mail-in voting ahead of the election — a pretext for an excuse if one party loses the next election. 

This partisan crusade against absentee and mail-in voting has escalated with threats to withhold federal funds from states using absentee and/or by mail voting. This includes Michigan, which in 2018 approved a ballot initiative to amend the state's constitution to allow absentee voting without an excuse. It is entirely legal for the state to mail applications to voters who can then vote remotely.

But as our history of the Jim Crow South reminds us, often our voting laws are less about protecting the right to vote, and more about laws that game the system by placing hurdles for voters that may not be in agreement with those who write the laws. This must stop.

And the best way to overcome these obstacles is take full advantage of that right to share our voice, our vote in the upcoming elections. Make sure you are registered to vote, and — in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis — that you know how to use absentee and mail-in voting options.

Since Proposal 3 passed in 2018, there is no deadline to register to vote in the state of Michigan: Michigan now allows same day registration. However, it is always best to get registered ahead of time. If you haven’t registered yet, visit the Michigan Voter Information Center.

All registered voters in Michigan have the right to vote by mail. It's a safe way to vote and protect your health, and the process is secure and accurate. To vote by mail, fill out the simple application, print and sign it, and then mail or email it to your local clerk.

We have so much on our plate right now, and so much at stake in the upcoming elections — priority one is ensuring that all Americans have the ability to vote and vote safely via mail-in ballots. And then making sure we do vote.

Choosing elected representatives, at the local, state, and national level is imperative to combating the injustices many Americans still face, to ensure our economy, and jobs for our people get back on track. We must support legislators who work for us in enacting laws and policies that keep everyone safe, prosperous, and healthy.

What we need now is action, and we need people in place to make those crucial — and I mean crucial — changes immediately.

To ensure this happens we must vote.

Rory Gamble is president of the UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.