Voter suppression is real. Spread the Vote sprang up to tackle the barriers that Republican politicians have put up around voting, by helping citizens get the ID they need to vote. While they work nationally, they have dedicated teams in 5 states where voter suppression is particularly bad, one of which is Texas.
Christina Sanders is the Texas State Director for Spread the Vote. She has worked in public policy and elections her whole career and is passionate about making sure young people, disenfranchised people, and people of color have access to the polls. She wants the voices of all people to be included in our democracy.
Here is our interview:
When did you get started at Spread the Vote?
I started at Spread the Vote in May. Before that, I served as Director of the League of Young Voters affiliate in Texas and worked there for five years.
Why did you decide to work for Spread the Vote?
I’m specifically interested in helping people have full access to the ballot, and Spread the Vote is an opportunity for anyone who wants to work on that. Voter ID is, plain and simple, voter suppression. We can’t have that. Getting people their ID is challenging to do. It’s tedious, repetitive, and political, but it’s so rewarding.
As the State Director for Texas what do you do day to day?
I organize and coordinate the efforts in Texas to get our residents the ID they need to vote. This means I’m recruiting volunteers, fundraising, conducting trainings, running mixers, troubleshooting — whatever it takes to support the work.
How many volunteers do you have in Texas?
Right now, we have about 90 around the state. It’s a small group but it’s also growing.
What’s something you wish people knew about the work that Spread the Vote does?
You hear a lot that it isn’t a big deal to get IDs, right? Well, as one example, we had a client who needed his birth certificate to get an ID. He knew he was born in California and needed to order it from the state. But to get a copy of your birth certificate, you need to provide an ID. Then California said we could notarize something to prove his identity, but you need ID to do that too. I want people to understand this can be a real challenge. Some cases take 4 or 5 of us, plus an attorney, to find a solution for one client. People should know that it is a privilege to have parents who keep your birth certificate and go with you to get your ID.
I think you’re right that a lot of people aren’t aware how difficult it can be for some people to get IDs.
One of the difficulties in Texas is that there is a limited list of IDs you can use to vote. For example, there are a variety of documents you can use to prove your identity–for example, an expired license. But you can’t use that to vote in Texas.
Sometimes, there’s also additional benefits for our clients who finally get their IDs. A recent example is that one of our clients got an ID, and that helped her land a job.
Am I correct in saying that one of the ways Spread the Vote does this work is by partnering with other organizations in the community?
Yes. We reach out to a variety of organizations to get them information about what we are doing so they can help us raise awareness of our services, and also so they refer people to us. We have other organizations who aren’t formally affiliated with us but want to support the work we are doing, so end up reaching out to us directly.
Do people come individually to Spread the Vote to ask for help?
Oh yes. The organizations we work with and other volunteers will refer people to us who need help.
It’s clear to me that you are really proud to work at Spread the Vote. Why is that?
I’m so proud of the people who volunteer and make our work possible. Never before in the history of America have we had to organize to get people IDs. It’s never happened before. I want people to see the effort and commitment of our volunteer leaders all over the state because it’s completely humbling. It makes me proud to work hard, to work late, to do whatever I can to support them. They are patient and willing to work with anyone. In short, they are amazing.
Tell us about your #TeenTheVote effort.
As the name suggests, it’s an effort to push teen engagement. Every year 1 million teenagers become eligible to vote in Texas. We’re working to get every high school in the state involved, and already have every high school in Dallas County involved. Every principal is getting information about this effort and the goal is to get in front of the students. By developing relationships with the high schools, we can identify any teenager who doesn’t have the right ID, and we work with partners who can get them registered.
Between your previous work at League of Young Voters and the #TeenTheVote effort, you seem to have a particular interest in helping young voters. The statistics show that they’re not very reliable as voters. Why is this group important to you?
Bear with me on this, but I think they’re better than us. Not in some shallow way, but in that are privileged to be born in this time and space where a lot of work has been done previously that gives them the foundation and the space to move us forward. They are the essence of what the future of the nation, and indeed the world, frankly needs. It’s important that they understand that it isn’t enough to be born in this time, however, but to figure out how to use all of this (our current technology, attitudes about a variety of issues, etc.) to make the country better for the next 40 years.
Technology is changing so fast and our young people understand it differently than us. They will be the leaders in framing important issues–climate change, working globally, humanitarian efforts, women’s rights–and so on. All this speaks to the work the rest of us have done already but it puts our young people in a better position, and they need to be ready to run the government in a way that espouses those values.
I got chills hearing you say that. Tell me, how can we all help Spread the Vote?
If you’re in Texas, consider volunteering and helping someone get their ID so they can vote. We need more people. For everyone else, donations are really helpful. On average, it costs $40 per voter to get an ID. This includes ordering birth certificates and other supporting documents. Clients often need transportation to go to various government offices, and this would be an additional cost. Your readers might consider $10 a month to Spread the Vote as that can really add up and help. And of course, if you run into anyone who needs an ID please refer them to Spread the Vote so we can help them regardless of if they’re in Texas or not.
POSTSCRIPT: I want to thank Christina and Spread the Vote for their willingness to speak to us at Political Charge. The work they are doing to increase access to the ballot box is crucial to our democracy.