New Orleans’ Educated Voter’s Guide

Voting is one of the best ways for American citizens to get involved in social and political change. Anyone interested in taking part in local and federal elections needs easy access to essential voting information, including overviews on current policy issues, registration and voting day guidelines, and tips for verifying political ads and articles on social media. 

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What is it for?

With the 2020 American presidential election coming up, it’s especially important for Americans to feel confident in their knowledge of the key issues and voting information that they need in order to take part in the electoral process. Online Optimism’s “New Orleans’ Educated Voter’s Guide” is aimed at all voters who want to make informed choices for their country and local communities through the voting process. 

Download our voting guide to learn about the top issues impacting our country today, and how you can be part of the social and political change that you want to see.

New Orleans’ Educated Voter’s Guide

Introduction

Why Vote?

Voting is one of the most crucial elements of American democracy and citizenship. However, despite the historic efforts to expand voting rights to BIPOC, women, and citizens of at least 18 years of age, lack of voting participation is still a major issue in America today. According to Pew Research and the United States Elections Project, roughly four out of ten eligible voters did not participate in the 2016 presidential election — that’s about 106,516,046 eligible voters who did not cast a vote in our most recent presidential election. Voter turnout is typically even lower for local elections: New York Times reporting estimates that only 27% of registered voters participate in local municipal elections that determine town and city officials.

There are many factors that influence low voter turnout, including a lack of access to registration and voting information, a lack of organized information related to major political issues, the inaccessibility of many voting locations, and the fact that election days are not federally-recognized holidays. These factors prevent many middle- and lower-class voters from participating on Election Day. Additionally, local elections tend to occur further away from national election dates and generally receive less coverage from larger news outlets due to their smaller scale. 

Who Is This Guide For?

With this guide, we want to highlight valuable resources, key issues, tips, and other information for all Louisianians who want to take part in the voting process. Whether you’ve never voted before and want to start with this year’s elections or you’ve been looking for a comprehensive voting resource for Louisiana residents, this free guide is for you.

Environmental Issues

The term “climate change” is used to describe long-term shifts in a regional or global climate. These changes occur in temperature, precipitation, and wind patterns. Although climate change is a natural phenomenon, greenhouse gas emissions from manmade industries have impacted the climate as early as the beginning of the last century.

In New Orleans, a city that is no stranger to warm and extreme weather, residents are already subject to the effects of climate change with a decrease in air quality, marsh fires, extreme heat days, vectors (insects that spread diseases), and land loss and flooding from rising water levels in the Gulf of Mexico. While these detrimental changes affect many residents of south Louisiana, they disproportionately affect Black communities and Indigenous communities.

The Climate Action for a Resilient New Orleans set up an annual plan to reduce greenhouse gas pollution by 50% by 2030

As a voter, you can:

  • Vote for local politicians who not only support environmental justice but have policies in place that can be put into immediate action if they are voted into office.
  • Contact local politicians to let them know your stances on the issues directly impacting New Orleans.
  • Contact local politicians to ask if they are in support of environmental initiatives, such as Climate Action for a Resilient New Orleans, and if they aren’t, create a dialogue geared towards why it matters.
  • Inform others on the issues so that they too can get involved.

As a Resident, You Can:

  • Commit to recycling paper and plastics #1 (soda and water bottles) and #2 (milks, juice, shampoo, and detergent containers). To request a recycling bin, residents should call 311 between the hours of 8:00am and 5:00pm, Monday-Friday
  • Participate in Glass Half Full, an organization that turns recycled glass into sand for coastal restoration and disaster relief
  • Limit the use of plastic and garbage acquired from the grocery store.
  • Buy groceries from sources that are environmentally friendly, like farmers and farmers’ markets.

Healthcare Issues

Healthcare has long been a key issue in both local and federal elections. Access to quality healthcare services is essential for maintaining a healthy lifestyle while managing and preventing disease, aiding with disabilities, and preventing any premature deaths.

Across the state of Louisiana, there’s a shortage of primary care physicians despite the fact that Louisiana exceeds the rates of the national average for deaths in the top five leading causes of death. These include: heart disease, cancer, accidents, chronic lower respiratory disease, and cerebrovascular disease. Black Louisiana residents lead other races in deaths caused by heart disease, cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, and diabetes. Both Black and Hispanic residents in Louisiana far outnumber white residents in new diagnoses of HIV/AIDS.

35.2% percent of Louisiana’s geographic areas have a shortage of primary care physicians.

13% percent of adults in Louisiana are diagnosed with diabetes.

As a voter, you can:

    • Educate yourself on how your area is impacted by current healthcare conditions.
    • Vote for local and federal officials that represent the values you hold regarding healthcare.
    • Research the current local and federal proposals to policy changes.

As a resident, you can:

  • Donate to your local Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC).
  • Participate in local blood drives.
  • Hold/participate in fundraising events.
  • Volunteer at your local community health center.

Economic Issues

Although New Orleans is a vibrant, culturally rich city, it also currently ranks third in states with the highest poverty rate.

Low minimum wage, an underfunded public education system, and other structural barriers that restrict Louisianians from basic necessities all contribute to the high poverty rate that disproportionately affects the Black community in the state. Furthermore, the disparities the state faces are caused by the policy decisions made by the people we elect to office. Educating oneself on these issues and voting for policies you support can help improve living conditions for all Louisianians.

In 2018, the percentage of the Black population living in poverty was 30%, compared to just 12.7% in the white population.

As a voter, you can:

    • Vote for politicians who support income equality, and have policies in place to ensure that the disparities among Louisianians will be immediately addressed once in office.
    • Contact local politicians and voice your opinion on the importance of addressing poverty in the state of Louisiana.
    • Understand ways to lift families out of poverty, such as: ensuring that Louisiana’s workers get their fair share of the state’s prosperity through a raised minimum wage, investing in children through an increase of school funding, or creating a comprehensive plan for paid leave.
    • Research statistics from U.S. census data or other reports to fully understand the disparities and racial barriers within the state.

As a resident, you can:

  • Encourage voter participation through more polling locations in low-income areas, ensuring everybody is represented.
  • Donate to local organizations that work to fight poverty and income equality (Thrive New Orleans, Daughters Beyond Incarceration).
  • Participate and donate to local food drives and food banks to help end hunger.
  • Inform and engage in meaningful conversations with others so they can also make change.

Human Rights Issues

Recent protests have highlighted groups’ ongoing work to fight for causes that will directly support the lives of Black people, queer and trans people, and women.

Black Lives Matter has continued to use their platform to protest the perpetual violence inflicted on Black people and communities. The movement has taken to the streets through a string of global protests, and also has continued to push for policy reform through the hashtag #WhatMatters2020.

In the midterm elections, Black voter turnout increased by 11 percentage points from 2014 to 2018.

As a voter, you can:

  • Participate in the 2020 Census, register to vote, and advocate for easy access to the ballot box, including voting by mail during the current pandemic.
  • Demand fair work conditions, including fair wages, paid family and medical leave, and sick time for all workers.
  • Support criminal justice reforms to reduce prison populations and ensure that formerly incarcerated individuals can successfully reintegrate into society through housing and employment access.
  • Vote against discriminatory barriers to affordable housing, quality healthcare, equal protection of the law, and equitable education.

As a resident, you can:

  • Join and/or donate to campaigns for candidates who support human rights.
  • Support the Black Lives Matter movement and groups supporting women, trans people, and people of color by giving money or raising awareness.
  • Contact your politicians to express your views on issues pertaining to the livelihood of your community.
  • Use social media as a tool to spread awareness about key human rights issues.

Organizations in New Orleans that promote human rights issues and reform include the Orleans Parish Prison Reform Coalition, ACLU of Louisiana, SAGE New Orleans – NOAGE, Forum For Equality, Nola4Women, and Citizen SHE. Find a comprehensive list of local human rights organizations at GiveNola.org.

Spotting Phony Politics

How to Spot False Ads on Social Media

It’s a tale as old as time — if an ad seems too good to be true, it probably is. The same goes for excessively negative, biased, or unverified political articles or advertisements. With the Pew Research Center reporting that one in five American adults use social media as a news source, it’s more important than ever to verify the information that we find on the internet when educating ourselves and others on important issues. Here are some tips on how to verify the credibility of political articles and ads on social media sites:

1. CONSIDER WHERE THE LINK WAS POSTED. Misinformation can linger in areas where a wide audience is not able to call it out for being false. Be extra cautious when viewing information that’s been shared in private Facebook groups, especially if you can’t easily access that article anywhere else. Google recently created a policy that requires all political advertisers to complete a verification process, creating transparency between an advertiser and a consumer.

2. ALWAYS READ THE FULL ARTICLE. Headlines, images, and captions can all be easily manipulated to make certain ideas seem truthful, even if the article itself doesn’t verify that information. By reading articles in full, you can determine whether or not the article title was meant to drive clicks to the link.

3. CHECK THEIR SOURCES. Do research on the source of the advertisement, and make sure that this source consistently provides accurate information and is supported by other credible resources. Typical reliable source domains end in .gov or .edu. When you see an ad or article on social media that uses untrustworthy sources, you can report the post to the social platform.

4. INTERACT WITH THE AD. Facebook has implemented policies that allow you to understand why a specific ad is being shown to you with the “Why Am I Seeing This Ad?” feature. For more transparency, Facebook users can also see who is paying for political ads that are personalized for them. Users can also view all ads running for a political page under the “Page Transparency” tab.         

5. CHECK YOUR OWN BIASES. Just because the information you find in an article fits your beliefs and opinions does not make it true. Be willing to change your mind when presented with more credible information.

Getting Ready to Vote

Are You Eligible to Vote in LA?

You can register to vote in LA if you meet these criteria:

  • You are a U.S. citizen who is at least 17 years old, and will turn 18 before voting day. You can register to vote at 16 if you register in-person at the Registrar of Voters Office or the Louisiana Office of Motor Vehicles.
  • You are not currently incarcerated with felony charges or haven’t been in the last 5 years. If you’ve ever been convicted of election fraud, you cannot register to vote in LA.
  • You are not under judgement of full interdiction for mental incompetence or partial interdiction with suspension of voting rights.
  • You are a Louisiana resident and are registered in the parish where you live.
  • Military and overseas Louisiana voters have important guidelines to follow too!

Make Your Registration Count!

In order to be eligible to vote in the next election, you must be registered at least 20 days prior to an election if registering through the GeauxVote Online Registration System, or 30 days prior to an election if registering in-person or by mail. Mail-in applications must be postmarked 30 days before the election you plan on participating in.

What You Need To Bring to The Polling Station

In Louisiana, you’ll need to bring at least one of the following personal identification items in order to cast your votes:

  • Driver’s license
  • Louisiana Special ID
  • LA Wallet digital driver’s license
  • U.S. military identification card with your name and picture
  • An alternate, generally recognized picture ID with your name and signature

If you don’t have any one of these forms of ID, you can still vote by signature on a voter affidavit.

Other Tips and Resources

Louisiana voters can do a lot to prepare themselves for election day, including:

1. Contacting candidates to learn more about their specific stances on important issues

2. Downloading the Geaux Vote app, available for both iPhone and Android

This app includes info on how to contact your representatives, where to find your polling station, what your election day ballot will look like, and more!

Other Ways to Vote

Voting By Mail

To be eligible for mail-in voting in Louisiana, you have to have a reason for voting by mail rather than in person. There are many ways that you can qualify for mail-in voting that are listed by category on the LA Secretary of State’s website. 

Applying for Mail-In Voting

As long as you are a registered voter, you can apply online for an absentee by mail ballot through the Louisiana Voter Portal: log into the site, use the “Search By Voter” function to find your voting information, click the “Request Absentee Ballot” link under Quick Links, fill out the form, and submit it. You can also print an absentee by mail application and send it to your parish’s Registrar of Voters.

If you’re approved for mail-in voting, you’ll need to make sure that you send in your ballot to your parish’s Registrar of Voters before the mail-in voting deadline for that election

Early Voting

Early voting occurs 7-14 days before any Election Day. If a state holiday occurs during an early voting period, it’s extended to 15 days before Election Day. To vote this way, you can vote at your parish’s Registrar of Voters between 8:30 am and 6:00 pm on an early voting day. You can also vote at other early voting locations in your parish. You’ll need to bring all the same personal identification items that are required on a typical Election Day. 

Qualifying for Early Voting

All registered LA voters are qualified for early voting! It’s a great option if you know ahead of time that you can’t vote on Election Day.

Tips To Encourage Friends And Family To Vote

Now that you’re familiar with the key issues that directly impact New Orleans and Louisiana, it’s important to inform and encourage others to vote, too! Easier said than done, right? These conversations can get uncomfortable, especially if you’re talking to someone with different political beliefs. Luckily, you don’t have to discuss political viewpoints, opinions, or candidate preferences when it comes to voting advocacy — you can simply talk to them about the importance of voting.

How does this happen?       

1. APPEAL TO THEIR SENSE OF CIVIC DUTY. Remind them that voting is a way for their voices and values to be heard. As citizens, we have many opportunities to benefit our communities, and one of the ways to do that is by voting in the right people to work towards change.

2. HAVE A DIRECT CONVERSATION. In-person conversations tend to be more personal and effective than conversations on social media. Be sure to listen carefully to their concerns and offer advice on policy matters if their minds aren’t made up.

3. INVITE THEM TO JOIN YOU ON VOTING DAY. Sometimes, the logistical details are what discourage people from voting. Offer friends and family a ride to the voting booth. Or make a day of it and ride bikes together to the booth. For 2020 elections, be sure to mask up!

4. SHOW OTHERS YOU’VE DONE YOUR PART. Wearing an “I Voted” sticker is a social symbol that says you participated in an important event, and although it might seem like it doesn’t matter, many people are motivated by these indicators. Post a photo of you wearing your “I Voted” sticker on social media to encourage others to vote, too!

5. PASS THIS GUIDE ALONG! If it’s preferable to you, avoid the conversations completely and simply tell them how much you benefited from reading this guide!                                                       

Your Next Steps As A Voter!

At Online Optimism, we want you to be optimistic about your role as a voter and as a member of your local and national communities. We hope this guide can help you make educated decisions when it comes to issues that directly impact New Orleans and Louisiana, including environmental changes; disparities in healthcare accessibility, poverty rates, and unemployment numbers; and social justice movements concerned with equitable human rights. We also hope you are now able to better identify misinformation and phony advertisements on the internet, and have found new ways to discuss voting with your friends and family.

As a voter, you have the right and the power to put the politicians whose views most resonate with yours into positions of power, so it’s important to remember how directly local politics impacts you. Although voting in federal elections is also important, most of the policies that directly influence you occur at the state and local level. It’s not likely that bigger news outlets will cover local elections, so be sure to follow local news sources to stay on top of local politicians and elections.

If this guide has helped, we hope you’ll share it with your friends and family! You can also find us on social media at the following links:

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