ADVANCING RURAL AMERICA’S FREEDOM TO VOTE
The right of every American to have a say in electing their representatives is the basis of our democracy. Frighteningly, our voting rights have been under attack in recent years, as the far right has promoted the false concept of voter fraud to undermine Americans’ trust in elections. The attack on the US Capitol on January 6, 2021 – an attack on our nation’s very democratic institutions – showed just how dangerous this can be.
While voter fraud is exceptionally rare, obstacles to voting access are growing rapidly, through state laws restricting early voting, vote by mail, and at-will absentee voting, as well as closing polling places. Many of the state laws proposed or passed in recent years to restrict voting will disproportionately impact rural voters, nearly half of whom voted early in the 2020 election. Rural voters generally have to travel much farther to vote than their non-rural counterparts, and yet voters in states with higher rural populations are more likely to face barriers to voting by mail and lack access to online voter registration. Mistrust of election results is also growing in some rural areas, but at the same time, elections are administered locally by hardworking members of the local community. In small towns where people know each other and each other’s family, this can help build trust in the process.
Framing: equality, freedom, security
As policymakers, we aim to unite communities across our shared values. Advocating for the freedom to vote that empowers rural constituents and leads with the values of equality, freedom, and security is a top priority because these values are deeply held among working people, regardless of where they live or what they look like.
With the support of policy priorities like those below, local communities will have what they need to solve local problems. Opposition continues to talk at families, we are forging a new path to ensure legislators are speaking with families. By using effective communication strategies, we can neutralize inflammatory language, unite our coalitions, and pass the policies we all need.
USE SHARED RURAL VALUES TO CRAFT YOUR MESSAGE
Effective communication requires not only facts but leveraging the values people share to resonate across race, class, age, gender, and place. The best messages follow the VPSA model: Values, Problem, Solution, Action. First, we unite along shared values to introduce the issue, then demonstrate the collectively-held problem, name the solution to the problem, and finally, when appropriate, leave with a call to action joining you to solve the problem. This formula keeps our messages concise while disarming opponents who seek to divide us. To get you started, here are three rural values that are particularly relevant for communicating with rural constituents about expanding voting access:
- Framing: Participatory democracy means that all citizens have a vote. Restrictions on voting such as prohibiting mail-in voting, online and automatic registration, and ID requirements effectively disenfranchise many of our fellow Americans by making it harder to cast a ballot. These restrictions impact rural people, people of color, seniors, workers, students, and many more, denying their equal right to vote.
- Example Statement: (Value) In the voting booth, all Americans are equal. Whether you are rich or poor, Black or white, immigrant or born here, we each have one vote. (Problem) But today, extremists are passing laws that will effectively deny many Americans their voting rights. Rural residents, working parents, and senior citizens are just some of the people who will be most impacted by restrictions on mail-in voting and closure of polling places. (Solution) Our bill will make it easier for all citizens to cast their ballot, so that Americans who are homebound, live in a remote area, or work long hours are not denied their Constitutional right to vote.
- Example Talking Points:
- Poll taxes and so-called literacy tests used to deny Black Southerners their right to vote, effectively making them second-class citizens. Today those tactics have been replaced with shuttered polling places and shortened voting hours. The impact is the same: to deny some of our citizens their equal right to vote.
- Measures that make it harder for any hardworking American citizen to cast their vote are a violation of American equality.
- Framing: Freedom and democracy are two of America’s founding principles. Many rural Americans live in the countryside for the freedom it offers. Any restrictions or obstacles to a US citizen’s right to vote is a threat to their freedom; indeed, a threat to the whole country’s freedom and democracy.
- Example Statement: (Value) Every American values freedom and democracy. (Problem) But a recently proposed bill would put up barriers to voting in our state, making it harder for hardworking rural people to cast their ballot when and how it works for them. (Solution) Democracy works best when every American has the freedom to vote easily and without onerous restrictions. (Action) That’s why our bill invests in local boards of election and provides support to open convenient polling locations in every community.
- Example Talking Points:
- Our country is more free when we can all easily and securely cast our ballot. Restrictions on voting access are a threat to American freedom and democracy.
- Rural Americans work hard and juggle many responsibilities. My bill would give the rural citizens of the state the freedom to securely vote when and where works best in their schedules.
- Framing: The extreme right has cast doubt on the security of US elections, accusing everyone from local poll workers to voting machine manufacturers of questionable activities. It is critical to fully fund intelligence efforts to ensure our elections are free from tampering from within or abroad, but the reality is that US elections are very secure, with many checks and backstops. We can both reassure voters of this reality and remind them that the people administering elections at the local level are their trusted family and friends.
- Example Statement: (Value) In rural America, our civil servants are our family, friends, and neighbors. Whether it’s our volunteer firefighters or our town librarian, we see every day that they work hard to keep our communities safe and secure. (Problem) Some extremists are casting doubt on our elections by questioning our local hardworking poll workers. A bill has been introduced that would slash funding from local boards of election – which would only serve to make our elections less secure. (Solution) Our elections are not run by far away bureaucrats; our poll workers and board of election members live in our community. You see them in the grocery store and at school pick-up. You can ask them directly about the security measures they take. Their office must be fully funded for them to properly do their jobs.
- Example Talking Points:
- Elections administered by our local community members are safe and secure.
Our local board of election must be fully funded to ensure that our hardworking poll workers and administrators can implement all necessary election security measures.
In practice: Media getting it right
Article | It’s time to build more trust in our electoral process, here’s how, 2021
- WHAT WE LIKE
- Directly addressing and naming the fears rural constituents have in the voting process, as long as they’re not fear-mongering or disinformation, are effective in lowering the guard of your audience. Providing concrete, tangible solutions to those concerns is even better. This article does a great job of parsing out the concerns, while uniting an audience on the solutions we all would benefit from.
- Describing the requirements of an inclusive democracy that serves all is a great exercise in gut-checking our assumptions and challenges in fixing our current voting system. No slice of the US agrees that our voting systems work perfectly, so rather than bury this, acknowledge and guide to secure, fact-based solutions that enhance voting security and participation.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- Lead with values. Facts can speak to the mind, but the heart is where opinions and values are felt. Uniting on values transcend party lines, therefore making solutions more palatable and more likely to be widely accepted.
Opinion | Why The Defense of Abortion in Kansas Is So Powerful, 2022
- WHAT WE LIKE:
- The article calls out directly how the “franchise” of the two party system in rural America does not align with the value of freedom through the use of gerrymandering, voter-suppression and dark-money.
- Previously rural voters have been described as less educated or voting against their own interests by the media and political think tanks but this article does a great job to describe rural voters as capable of discerning the nuances often concealed within the two-party system when given the choice.
- MOVING FORWARD:
- State elections are a credible testing ground for better understanding the electorate and how rural voters fall outside of the far-extreme political ideologies that often dominate party politics. This understanding can form more value lead coalition building.