After the election, many Americans’ holiday seasons may feature divisive, often uncomfortable, conversations with friends and family who disagree politically. For those of us frustrated by the myths and misinformation, it’s more important than ever to combat the spin and fear-mongering with facts.
Here are some to keep in mind:
The gravest threat to free and fair elections is not voter fraud but voter suppression. Despite what some politicians claim, voter fraud is extremely rare. So rare in fact that a comprehensive investigation of more than one billion ballots cast between 2000 and 2014 discovered only 31 credible cases of in-person voter impersonation. There is, however, a very real danger of elections being “rigged” by restrictions that make it harder for people to vote particularly people of color. A federal appeals court found that North Carolina’s 2013 law requiring photo ID and eliminating same-day registration, a week of early voting, and other popular measures, was enacted “with discriminatory intent” and targeted African American voters “with almost surgical precision.” Fourteen states had new voting restrictions in place during the 2016 presidential election, the first in half a century without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act, and hundreds of polling places were closed in states with a history of voter suppression.
Refugees are the most rigorously vetted and scrutinized people to enter the United States. When refugees are referred to the U.S., they face intense 18-to 24-month-long screenings by the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, and the FBI that feature background checks, in-person interviews, and even biometric fingerprint tests matched against criminal databases. Roughly half of Syrian refugees brought to the U.S. are children. Those who try to spread fear about welcoming refugees into the United States wrongly blame desperate people for the very terror they are fleeing, and any religious test for those entering the United States would not only violate the Constitution, but the foundational American value of religious liberty for all.
Immigrants provide an overall benefit to the U.S. economy and are even more law-abiding than U.S. citizens, according to comprehensive studies of both issues. Federal programs such as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) have enabled more than 700,000 undocumented young people who were brought into the U.S. as children to receive work permits, go to school, pay taxes, and contribute to and integrate into society in countless ways. A mass deportation program for undocumented immigrants — which could mean arresting more than 15,000 people every day — would lead to rampant constitutional rights abuses for undocumented immigrants and citizens alike.
Legal abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States, but restrictions to abortion access have dire – and often deadly – consequences for women. Nearly one in three U.S. women will have an abortion in her lifetime. Before Roe v. Wade legalized abortion nationwide, as many as 1.2 million American women a year tried to have an abortion without a licensed doctor, according to the Guttmacher Institute, with many cases resulting in injury or even death. Without Roe v. Wade, a woman who lived in a state where abortion was illegal would have to travel to one where it is legal to obtain the procedure. If she didn’t have enough money or transportation, she would be forced to endure an unwanted or risky pregnancy, attempt to self-abort, or turn to an illegal — and potentially unsafe — provider for help. Every woman must be able to make her own decisions with the advice of qualified medical professionals – no matter where she lives.
Protecting transgender people from discrimination does not infringe on the privacy or safety of anyone else. Transgender Americans, who total more than 1.4 million adults, face extremely high rates of discrimination – in workplaces, schools, housing, health care, and their own families. More than half of those who responded to a national survey reported being harassed in a public accommodation, such as a hotel, restaurant, or public restroom. A shocking 41% said they have attempted suicide. In the 18 states and more than 200 municipalities that protect transgender people from discrimination in public accommodations, there is no evidence of increased threats to public safety. Transgender men are men, and transgender women are women. They deserve to use public facilities in peace and be protected under the law – just like anyone else.
It’s more important than ever to have conversations with your friends and family about the rights guaranteed to us all, including the right to vote, live free of discrimination, and control our own bodies. And holiday season gatherings might just be a great place to start.
Mike Meno is the communications drector of the American Civil Liberties Union of North Carolina.