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voting booth, voter supression, olivia coley-pearson

A voting booth in Ohio.

Historically, people who cannot read and write have faced discrimination in the voting booths of America. Before the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965, literacy tests were enacted as a way of disqualifying immigrants and the poor, who had less education, from casting a ballot. In the south, they were used to prevent Black people from registering to vote.

According to ProPublica, in 2022, around 48 million people in the United States struggle to read, about a fifth of the adult population. An analysis of voter turnout has found that in countries with lower literacy rates, voter turnout was lower as well.

“How the system is set up, it disenfranchises people,” voting rights advocate Olivia Coley-Pearson told ProPublica. Coley-Pearson is a city commissioner in Douglas, the county seat of Coffee County, Georgia. “It’s by design, I believe, because they want to maintain that power and that control.”


Recent laws passed in the south have made it more difficult for people to assist those who have difficulty reading at the voting booth. In 2021, Georgia passed a law that limits who can return or touch a completed ballot. Florida has made it more difficult for volunteers to ask voters if they need assistance and Texas passed a law prohibiting voters’ assistants from answering questions or paraphrasing complicated language on the ballot.

Fortunately, portions of the Texas law have been struck down.

No one knows firsthand how hard it is for people with difficulty reading to vote in the south more than Coley-Pearson. She’s been charged twice in Coffee County for trying to help people vote. "We're a rural community, there are racial issues, educational issues, employment issues,” she told ProPublica.

"Most of the people who have trouble reading, writing and understanding, they're not going to go vote. If you have a low voter turnout, that's some of the reason why," she told ProPublica.

In 2012, the chairman of Coffee County’s board of elections filed a complaint against Coley-Pearson and three other residents, alleging that they’d assisted voters who didn’t legally qualify for help.

“If someone asks me for help, I feel an obligation to try to assist if I could,” she testified at a 2016 hearing. “Sometimes things are done to try to maybe dis-encourage, or whatever, other people from voting, and I don’t feel like that is fair.”

A local district attorney's office charged her with two felonies for signing a form that gave a false reason for why a voter needed assistance and for improperly assisting a voter. According to BuzzFeed News, there were no allegations that Coley-Pearson had told anyone who to vote for or pressed any buttons on the voting machine for those she assisted.

“This is supposed to cause fear in those who would dare stand up for themselves,” Nefertara Clark, Coley-Pearson’s attorney, said, according to BuzzFeed News.

After six years of having the felony charges hanging over her, in 2018, the trial ended in a hung jury. She was tried again and the new jury acquitted her of all charges. “Next to losing my son, the most horrible thing I’ve experienced in my life,” Coley-Pearson told 11 Alive News.

In October 2020, while assisting someone with low literacy skills vote in the presidential election, she was barred from returning to the polls for allegedly touching a voting machine. Coley-Pearson said she never touched the machine.

The county’s election supervisor, Misty Martin, called the police on Coley-Pearson and they issued a trespass warning barring her from the polls indefinitely. Later that morning, when she returned with another voter, she was arrested and charged with trespassing.

A state judge dropped the charge earlier this year if Coley-Pearson agreed to follow election law. “There was no evidence of any crime here,” Coley-Pearson told ProPublica. “It feels like you’re fighting a losing battle.”

Even though Coley-Pearson has been victorious in court, her supporters tell her they're now afraid to vote because of her struggles. Unfortunately, these are the people who need their voices heard the most. "I say, 'That's exactly why you need to vote so we can stop stuff like that,'" she told ProPublica.

Sponsored

This is the most important van in NYC… and it’s full of socks.

How can socks make such a huge difference? You'd be surprised.

all photos provided by Coalition for The Homeless

Every night, the van delivers nourishment in all kinds of ways to those who need it most

True

Homelessness in New York City has reached its highest levels since the Great Depression of the 1930s. Over 50,000 people sleep each night in a shelter, while thousands of others rely on city streets, the subway system and other public locations as spaces to rest.

That’s why this meal (and sock) delivery van is an effective resource for providing aid to those experiencing homelessness in New York City.

Every night of the year, from 7pm to 9:30, the Coalition for the Homeless drives a small fleet of vans to over 25 stops throughout upper and lower Manhattan and in the Bronx. At each stop, adults and families in need can receive a warm meal, a welcoming smile from volunteers, and a fresh, comfy new pair of Bombas socks. Socks may be even more important than you think.

Bombas was founded in 2013 after the discovery that socks were the #1 most requested clothing item at homeless shelters.

Access to fresh, clean socks is often limited for individuals experiencing homelessness—whether someone is living on the street and walking for much of the day, or is unstably housed without reliable access to laundry or storage. And for individuals experiencing or at risk of homelessness —expenses might need to be prioritized for more critical needs like food, medication, school supplies, or gas. Used socks can’t be donated to shelters for hygienic reasons, making this important item even more difficult to supply to those who need it the most.

Bombas offers its consumers durable, long-lasting and comfortable socks, and for every pair of Bombas socks purchased, an additional pair of specially-designed socks is donated to organizations supporting those in need, like Coalition for the Homeless. What started out as a simple collaboration with a few organizations and nonprofits to help individuals without housing security has quickly become a bona fide giving movement. Bombas now has approximately 3,500 Giving Partners nationwide.

Though every individual’s experience is unique, there can frequently be an inherent lack of trust of institutions that want to help—making a solution even more challenging to achieve. “I’ve had people reach out when I’m handing them a pair of socks and their hands are shaking and they’re looking around, and they’re wondering ‘why is this person being nice to me?’” Robbi Montoya—director at Dorothy Day House, another Giving Partner—told Bombas.

Donations like socks are a small way to create connection. And they can quickly become something much bigger. Right now over 1,000 people receive clothing and warm food every night, rain or shine, from a Coalition for the Homeless van. That bit of consistent kindness during a time of struggle can help offer the feeling of true support. This type of encouragement is often crucial for organizations to help those take the next difficult steps towards stability.

This philosophy helped Bombas and its abundance of Giving Partners extend their reach beyond New York City. Over 75 million clothing items have been donated to those who need it the most across all 50 states. Over the years Bombas has accumulated all kinds of valuable statistics, information, and highlights from Giving Partners similar to the Coalition for the Homeless vans and Dorothy Day House, which can be found in the Bombas Impact Report.

In the Impact Report, you’ll also find out how to get involved—whether it’s purchasing a pair of Bombas socks to get another item donated, joining a volunteer group, or shifting the conversation around homelessness to prioritize compassion and humanity.

To find out more, visit BeeBetter.com.

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