Cameron Pollack / Sun File Photo

Even though Ithaca sees relatively high voter turnout, Svante Myrick '09 believes that efforts to get out the vote across the country are worthwhile and affect Ithaca residents indirectly.

November 5, 2020

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 Works to Defend the Black Vote

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Decades of voter suppression have often made it difficult for racial minorities, particularly Black voters, to have their voices heard in elections. 

In the 2018 midterm election, for example, eligible voters in 24 states faced a series of new laws that made it more difficult for them to cast their ballots compared to the 2010 midterms, according to the Brennan Center for Justice. 

Mayor Svante Myrick ’09 joined other elected officials across the nation for the Defend the Black Vote campaign to reach out to Black voters across the country to encourage them to partake in the election.

Myrick said he felt this project was crucial to launch during this election season because voter suppression efforts such as closing polling places early and undermining the United States Postal Service have put the Black vote at risk. 

“All that’s made worse by the fact that the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s was basically gutted by a Supreme Court decision in 2013,” Myrick said. “And we felt like the Black folk needed some defenders.”

Myrick referred to the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Shelby County v. Holder, which found the formula used to determine which states and local governments need federal government clearance before changing their voter laws to be unconstitutional. The ruling also said Congress needed to draft a new formula. 

The federal clearance provisions in the Voting Rights Act were intended to prevent districts from disenfranchising voters because of their race.

Myrick joined the project as one of its leaders after former Congressman John Lewis (D-Ga.) died in July. While Myrick said the Tompkins County Board of Elections has done a great job of informing the public of polling places and ensuring short lines, Myrick said the program’s real goal is to contact voters in regions that fail to provide accessible voting information.

“We can only be successful here, locally, if the nation is successful … ,” Myrick said. “Even though we’re not targeting voters here in Ithaca, I believe that everyone in Ithaca would be better off if everyone voted all in the country. So, it matters to me that voter turnout is record high.” 

Myrick has also taken an active role in the organization’s fundraising efforts, calling donors across the country who have donated to civic-minded causes in the past and raising at least $300,000 for the program.

“Our goal is to achieve record Black voter turnout in 2020 bypassing even the record set in ’08 with Barack Obama’s campaign,” Myrick said before Election Day. “And I think we can do it, it’s a big goal, but I think we can do it.” 

On Nov. 4, Myrick tweeted  a Defend the Black Vote update, as the group texted over 3 million Black voters in critical states and over 10.5 million texts about “correcting misinformation, letting people know about deadlines, encouraging participation.”