Your Voice + Your Vote, a brand-new coalition of local nonpartisan groups — including the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County, Tompkins County Human Rights Commission, Finger Lakes Independence Center and Rejoice the Vote — hosted a celebration of voting event on Saturday.
“Your Voice + Your Vote grew out of a conversation we had in the Human Rights Commission and with the Office of Human Rights back in July, and we’ve been meeting every two weeks with this group of partners that we’ve pulled together,” said Joanna Green, a member of the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission.
Green explained that while the group has been meeting since July, the event marked their first time meeting in person and launching the coalition to the public. Held at the Southside Community Center, the event featured voter registration aid, information tables for each of the attending groups, local speakers and music.
Green and Sally Grubb, co-president of the League of Women Voters of Tompkins County, spearheaded the event, coordinating all of its logistics within a mere two weeks.
“We wanted to spread the word about each group here today, and what they’re doing independently of each other and what we’re doing together,” Grubb said. “We wanted to start a community-wide effort to increase civic awareness and educate people who are not in power at the moment, thus generating involvement by everybody.”
In addition to soft-launching the Your Voice + Your Vote coalition, event participants also aimed to foster community involvement in democracy. Specifically, the coalition wanted to encourage people to extend their efforts in politics and advocacy beyond voting.
“It goes way beyond voting — it’s about developing political power,” Green said. “I really feel like work to save our democracy has to have local roots. It needs to happen within communities. We have to be talking across divides and working really hard to make sure that people’s needs can be met.”
Vote 411, an nonpartisan online resource that contains voting information, also participated in the event. The organization sends questions to all candidates for Tompkins County races, to which the candidates respond to in a secure, password-based log.
Nancy Skipper, coordinator of Vote 411 for Tompkins County, explained that the website’s goal is to expand voting accessibility.
“This enables potential voters to go in and compare the candidates and pick the best one,” Skipper said. “A lot of people are really shocked by what shows up on the ballots when they do go to vote, or they just don’t vote because they don’t know what is going to be on the ballot. But if you go into Vote 411, you can see it all.”
As a member of the coalition, the Finger Lakes Independence Center, a local agency advocating for people with disabilities, was also present at the event. Larry Roberts, a member of this organization and the Human Rights Commission, explained that people with disabilities face many barriers regarding voting, such as inaccessible voting centers and inadequate accommodations.
“It was a really natural thing for the Independence Center to join this coalition and help people with disabilities understand what our rights are,” Roberts said.
Roberts stressed the importance of maintaining awareness of local, state and federal government issues, particularly those affecting people with disabilities. Currently, the group is collaborating with activists from across the state to advocate for Fair Pay For Home Care, an act that would encourage better wages for home health aides.
“We all want to feel that we’re contributing to society, specifically the betterment of society. And voting is a key way to do that,” Robert said.