Social workers have a long tradition of social justice and political advocacy – to include working to expand and protect voting rights and promote voter registration. Our essential work on behalf of protecting voting rights is needed now more than ever. The right to vote was hard won and still remains tenuous for historically vulnerable and under-represented communities. More than 400 bills have been introduced at the state level to suppress the right to vote. If passed, such bills will have sweeping impacts on communities of color, students, veterans, LGBTQIA+ people, people with disabilities, and older adults.
These are concerted efforts made to cut back or eliminate mechanisms that allow and encourage voting like mail-in voting, Election Day registration, early voting days, polling place availability, and availability of mail ballot drop boxes. Some states have gone so far as to make it a crime to provide food or water to a person waiting in line to vote. Such efforts effectively undermine the historic provisions of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, thus compromising decades of meaningful progress made toward a more inclusive democracy.
However, these bills are not the only current threats to democracy. These efforts exist in the context of disinformation, censorship efforts and voter disengagement. Voter disengagement is a combined result of the cumulative effects of concerted voter suppression and the erosion of trust in government. As social workers, we must rise to the urgency of the moment. Protecting the right to vote is synonymous with social work. As social workers, we are called to uphold the principle of social justice, as outlined in our professional NASW Code of Ethics, which calls upon us to “pursue social change, particularly with and on behalf of vulnerable and oppressed individuals and groups of people”.
It is within our power to stand on the right side of history, and to take action to remove the insurmountable obstacles that are being set in place to deny people their constitutional right to a fair and free vote. We can each take meaningful steps to integrate voter registration in our practice, we can promote civic engagement for those that we serve and for those in our profession, and we can build upon our enduring legacy of social justice and political advocacy through protecting democracy and the right to vote.
Listen to this panel presentation through the NASW Social Work Online CE Institute, The Power of Three Campaign: Mobilizing Social Work’s Vision and Voice Through Voting, to learn more about the history of voting in the U.S., and ways in which social workers can promote and mobilize voters.
Voting is Social Work: The National Social Work Voter Mobilization Campaign is a nonpartisan campaign that provides social workers with the knowledge and tools to raise awareness about voting and to increase voting registration and participation.