Today, voters of color across the country are facing the greatest assault on their voting rights since the Jim Crow era. While some states are working to suppress voting abilities, through adopting a state-level Voting Rights Act, Maryland can set the standard for state-level protections for all resident voters. Even with Maryland’s progressive reputation and willingness to adopt protective reforms, there are still discriminatory barriers to equal participation in our democracy. These barriers disproportionately impact Black and Brown, first-time, rural, and limited English proficiency voters. By enacting the Maryland Voting Rights Act (MDVRA), the Free State can take a monumental step towards a future of fair and equal voting rights.
While Maryland has been among the most aggressive states to implement measures that make voting more equitable, Maryland voters still face barriers to reaching the ballot box. Though the state is moving in the right direction, having adopted numerous voter protection measures, conditions that can foster voting discrimination — such as unfair districts or at-large systems that weaken Black and Brown voting power, inaccessible polling locations, and insufficient language assistance for voters who don’t speak English — still occur across the state.
For example, Baltimore County enacted a discriminatory districting plan after the 2020 Census that undercut Black voters’ ability to elect preferred candidates. Several counties and towns along the Eastern Shore have recently used at-large voting systems in communities where white voters and voters of color tend to vote for different candidates. This allowed white majorities to control entire legislative bodies, even where there is a growing population of voters of color. These challenges persist in communities such as Havre de Grace where no Black person has ever been elected to town government. Because Maryland has one of the highest shares of Black and Brown residents in the country, it is vital that the state continue to implement reforms that will give Black and Brown, limited English proficient, rural, and first-time voters the tools needed to have their voices heard during elections.
It’s time for Maryland to set a new standard for protecting the right to vote. The MDVRA will help Maryland fight discrimination at home and become a national leader on the right to vote.
The tremendous voter-suppression efforts that have arisen recently make this a perilous time for our democracy. Congress, the federal courts, and the states must stand up for voting rights. The whole nation needs Maryland’s example.
If passed, the MDVRA will be one of the most comprehensive state-level voting rights acts in the country, building on successful laws already on the books in New York, California, Washington, Oregon, and Virginia—and efforts under way now in Connecticut and New Jersey.
Now is Maryland’s time to lead.
2020 saw a dramatic increase in attempts to suppress the vote of Black, Latinx, and other minority-community voters. Democracy Defended captures and analyzes LDF’s work during the 2020 election season, including our Prepared to Vote and Voting Rights Defender initiatives. It provides documentation of barriers faced by Black voters in PTV/VRD focus states and solutions for policy makers, election administrators, and community members to implement to ensure fair access to the vote in future elections.