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    Uniting to Protect the Right to Vote

    By Andrea Shorter

    (Editor’s Note: We have long admired Andrea Shorter, who is President of the Commission on the Status of Women. She was appointed to this important commission by no less than three mayors: former mayor Willie Brown (2001), former mayor Gavin Newsom (2005) and Mayor Ed Lee (2012).

    Shorter is an accomplished public official, cutting edge public policy leader, political strategist, and civil and human rights advocate who often works toward advancing social justice goals. She has made strides in criminal and juvenile justice systems reform, HIV/AIDS education and outreach, marriage equality, gender equity, ending domestic and family violence, and LGBT workplace inclusion. Earlier this year, she was named a “Mother of the Movement” by the Domestic Violence Consortium for her efforts to create a national model to combat domestic and family violence.

    We have covered Shorter’s work from time to time over the years, but this issue marks her debut as a regular contributor. We are tremendously honored to feature her new column, “Cross Currents,” in the San Francisco Bay Times. Look for it in each issue!)

    With this inaugural entry as a columnist, I am delighted and honored to have been invited by the Bay Times to come aboard the team as a regular contributor. I welcome this opportunity to highlight the connections between the LGBTQ liberation movement and other key issues that create opportunities to further advance equality, civil and human rights for all. I look forward to sharing my observations, insights, and musings on matters of interest that will hopefully inspire, cajole, occasionally irritate, and serve as a catalyst for engagement in what I can best describe as the ‘cross currents’ of movement, critical resistance, and just plain good old fashioned coalition building that can serve to elevate us all to higher ground.

    On that note, let’s get to it with something that’s been on my mind for the past several days: voter registration and suppression.

    Recently, two friends were summoned for jury duty selection at 850 Bryant Street. After a long, early morning, both later shared with me their respective observations that out of the nearly 90 citizens summoned that morning, there were only two identifiable African Americans in the potential jury pool. Neither friends are African American, and instead are representative of San Francisco’s larger populaces of Caucasian and Asian folks.

    Their own alarmed observations of who was and wasn’t in the jury pool room, of course, led to remarks about the socioeconomic, political, affordable housing, and other causes that have either directly or indirectly resulted in a declining population of African Americans in the City over the past decade or so. We commiserated over those issues and efforts respondent to the alarming fact that African Americans now make up less than 5% of our much trumpeted, exceptionally diverse City—where the African American population has notably diminished from a reported 13% when I arrived in 1991.

    While we will not, at this particular writing, delve into the complexities of the alarming decline of the African American population in San Francisco, it was the visible absence of African Americans in that potential jury pool that extended discussion about the ill effects of intentional voter suppression tactics across the nation. The clearly racially targeted voter suppression measures that we witness in other locales—particularly among Southern states—may not take such specific effect in liberal, bluer than blue San Francisco.

    Still, it remains that by disenfranchising potential or registered voters who are people of color, elderly, disabled, and persons formerly under criminal justice system jurisdiction, it quite effectively erodes the probability of those most marginalized registered voters to serve as jurors. Concerning African Americans, this is especially pertinent given that African Americans remain disproportionately subject to disparate rates as defendants against criminal charges, and are thus more likely to appear before a court and what should be a reasonable expectation: before a jury of one’s peers.

    To be clear, no one is suggesting that a jury including African Americans will more likely excuse or exonerate other Black folks simply because a defendant is Black. It does call to question the full intent of an essentially sham federal commission on elections that is masquerading to resolve “rampant voter fraud.” Working to further disenfranchise targeted populations from voting as a majority not only upsets desired interests in maintaining traditional, majority voter power, it also seeks to suppress participation of what should be qualified registered voters from full enfranchisement of democratic society, including serving as jurors in courts of law.

    Similar implications regarding voter registration and participation exist for transgender persons in states well beyond the sanctity of our California borders. Just as the suffragettes and civil rights champions fought for enfranchisement in the democratic process, we should be as vigilant in the fight to protect the voter rights of transgender persons at risk of being further marginalized and denied their basic rights and entitlements as voters in states slow or resistant to issuing drivers licenses, state identification cards, etc. with photo identification presenting their correct gender identity in order to comply with voter ID laws that might applied at polling stations.

    While absentee voting is an option, as advised by the National Center for Transgender Equality, “it should not be necessary.” A state’s refusal to correct gender markers on government issued identification subjects transgender persons to discrimination, harassment, and potentially from being turned away from polling stations. This is not acceptable.

    These forms of disenfranchisement also extend to the matter of less representation of the full LGBT spectrum in those juror boxes, especially in cases involving criminal offenses against or concerning transgender persons. Just as we support the work of the ACLU, NAACP, La Raza, the Asian Law Caucus, League of Women Voters, and other champions to protect and safeguard voter rights, we should encourage opportunities for ‘cross current’ coalition to protect the rights of transgender voters by supporting the work of organizations such as the Transgender Law Center and the National Center for Transgender Rights.

    In this era of ‘Trumped’ up charges of voter fraud, united resistance against voter suppression and disenfranchisement is absolutely necessary.

    Andrea Shorter is President of the historic San Francisco Commission on the Status of Women. She is a longtime advocate for criminal and juvenile justice reform, voter rights, and marriage equality. A co-founder of the Bayard Rustin LGBT Coalition, she was a 2009 David Bohnett LGBT Leadership Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government.