VoteRiders Celebrates Black History Month

As we celebrate Black History Month this year, we are also preparing for an all-important primary and midterm election season.

By Sylvester Johnson III

While 2020 saw historic turnout from Black voters, achieving that same level of turnout may be more challenging this year. Seven states (including my home state of Georgia, where I serve as VoteRiders’ State Voter ID Coalition Coordinator) passed new or stricter voter ID laws in 2021 alone, and an additional 11 states have similar initiatives pending as of this month. 

For many Americans, this year will be the first time they cast a ballot with these new rules in place. Black voters are among those who are disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws, and we need to be prepared. 

Earlier this year, the U.S. Senate did not pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act of 2021, which would have required federal preclearance for certain state voter ID requirements. As I work with our partners across Georgia in these challenging times, I like to draw inspiration from the bill’s namesake, our state’s late Congressman John Lewis. I believe he would tell us that progress is never linear but instead ebbs and flows. And that we must take this opportunity to make “good trouble, necessary trouble” in our own communities. 

No matter what happens with voting policy at the federal or state levels, it is important to make sure that we are preparing as many people as possible to comply with existing state voter ID laws. This is the best way to ensure their voice is heard, and that we are building an electorate that is empowered, diverse and prepared. And on the issue of voter ID, we need to get started with action TODAY, since it can take weeks or months for some citizens to obtain the ID they need to cast a ballot that counts. 

Our duty is to be knowledgeable of the voting process and to be aware of the laws and how they may impact someone’s right to vote. And once we are knowledgeable about the state of play, we must share our knowledge with others in our community, so they too can take the steps necessary to make sure their ballot is cast.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, record-setting numbers of voters decided to make their voices heard by voting-by-mail or absentee ballot in 2020. As we continue to deal with the impact of COVID, millions of voters will look to cast an absentee or mail-in ballot again this year. 

If you’re from a state like Georgia, the voter ID requirements for voting-by-mail have changed significantly due to SB202. As a result of this law, an estimated 155,000 registered Georgia voters who lack ID on file with the state will face new challenges in voting by mail. The voters impacted by this changing law are disproportionately Black, representing an estimated 58% of registered voters without state-issued ID. VoteRiders is spending the entire month of March writing letters to these Georgia voters to alert them to changing voter ID laws, and we’d love for you to sign up to join us and help spread the word!

Through events like these and our work day in and day out, VoteRiders prides itself on engaging with communities that are disproportionately impacted by voter ID laws. An estimated 25% of voting-age African American citizens do not have a government-issued ID. So, this Black History month, we’re redoubling our commitment to ensure that they’re prepared with the ID information and free help they need in 2022 and beyond. 

This Black History Month, as we honor the trailblazers and heroes of our past, I propose that we engage in a three-step campaign of preparedness to honor them with our votes this year:

  1. Prepare yourself to cast a ballot. 
  2. Prepare your family, friends, and neighbors to vote by sharing information, providing assistance, and explaining the importance of their vote. Share our state-specific voter ID resources and encourage everyone you know to do an #IDCheck to make sure they have what they need.
  3. Support, volunteer and engage with organizations fighting to ensure everyone can cast a ballot. And, let’s make some good trouble together!


Sylvester Johnson III is VoteRiders’ Georgia Voter ID Coalition Coordinator and National Volunteer Manager.