Berkeley Talks: ACLU leader on how voter suppression works

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people wait in a long line to vote

When Wisconsin tried to hold a presidential primary election during the pandemic in April 2020, Milwaukee officials opened just five polling places for the entire city. One study said that difficult access and long lines reduced turnout by more than 8% — and more than 10% for Black voters. (AP photo by Morry Gash)

In Berkeley Talks episode 145, Abdi Soltani, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Northern California, discusses key moments for voting rights and elections throughout U.S. history, current threats to voting that are unfolding across the country and work the ACLU is doing in California.

Voter suppression takes two forms, said Soltani, who spoke on Feb. 18, 2022, as part of America’s Unfinished Work, a speaker series by UC Berkeley’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. The first form, he said, is in the suppression of the legal right to vote by affecting the structures, laws, policies and practices that govern how people vote. And the second is in the willful manipulation of voters.

Voters, said Soltani, are manipulated by people spreading disinformation and misinformation, and causing cynicism and distraction, so that they feel unmotivated to vote or feel that their votes don’t matter.

“Voters have to be motivated, inspired,” said Soltani. “We’ve got to do the work. We’ve got to read the ballot. We’ve got to prepare. … Risks to our democracy are always there. It takes people like yourselves and people who may be listening to this … to be the guardians of our constitutional rights.”

Watch a video of the lecture on OLLI’s YouTube page.


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