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Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, DN.J., opened the discussion online as panelists discussed how tax returns could help families in minority communities avoid voter suppression.
The Brookings Institution’s Governance Studies Program hosted a webinar on Tuesday on encouraging voter registration through the tax system.
Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman, DN.J., opened the discussion online as panelists discussed how tax returns could help families in minority communities avoid voter suppression. Vanessa Williamson, Principal Investigator in the Governance Studies Program at the Brookings Institution, moderated the event, which took place on National Voter Registration Day.
Coleman said politicians in states like Texas have devised “oppressive and undemocratic” tactics to prevent young black and brown citizens from registering to vote. She said Congress was aware of the ongoing voter suppression in state and local governments as members of Congress debated voting legislation, such as the For the People and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement laws.
She said registering to vote and streamlining the registration process will be some of the first steps in tackling voter suppression. She said these measures will support the need for a bill to allow people to register to vote while filing their income tax returns.
“In the United States of America, we’re supposed to encourage civic participation, registering to vote and voting as the most basic thing we can do to make sure we have a healthy democracy,” Coleman said.
Sarah Brannon, lawyer in charge of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, said elected officials may be more likely to discourage communities of color from voting if they participate in the electoral process. She said states like Texas and Georgia passed election laws restricting access to voting through shorter, in-person early voting periods after the 2020 presidential election drew a record number of participation among under-represented groups such as black and brown communities.
“We are not the only ones as there is an array of voting rights and civil rights groups that are involved in these efforts to stop these laws,” Brannon said.
She said the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act – a bill that seeks to identify voter discrimination in states and jurisdictions, particularly during early voting periods and on polling day – would encourage the full participation of voters. voters from all communities, if passed. She said President Joe Biden’s administration must take whatever steps are necessary to promote accessible voting processes and avoid further hostility from voters and congressional inaction.
“One of the things that really struck me is the extent to which these anti-voting laws are progressing in places where elections are near,” Brannon said. “This is not happening in just any part of the country. It happens where elections are near and where those margins can really matter for state representations. “
Jeremy Bearer-Friend, associate professor of law, said that although people often assume that state and local governments taxes negatively impact voter registration through fees and fines that prevent black citizens from exercising their right to vote, taxes like corporate taxes can also expand democracy and limit inequalities.
“We can make sure that there are as many opportunities to register to vote as we can create in part through the civic experience of filing income, which is a time when individuals are very aware of their membership in a political community and their contributions to it. community, ”said Bearer-Friend.
Rebecca Thompson – the acting vice president of Prosperity Now, a local nonprofit that financially supports minority and low-income communities – said the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance Program, a grant program run by the Internal Revenue Service, strives to help the weak to moderate. income-earning households complete their income tax return. She said the program relies on volunteers to direct families to available tax credits and promote household financial stability.
“It started out as a way to really help people fill out those complex tax forms to help with compliance, but also because taxes are difficult for some people and people need help,” he said. she declared.
Thompson said the Filer Voter Act – a bill that would require tax preparation services to provide voter registration forms to their clients if they serve more than 100 people – will encourage programs like VITA to make voter registration information easily accessible through income tax returns. She said program participants are excited to serve families in need of financial information and voter registration.
“This time it’s more about making their voices heard and making sure they are heard and participate in our society by voting,” she said.