By Brad Pyle
Our legislatures, elections officials, and courts must find ways to protect the rights of American voters to have their voices heard in the upcoming election season and through the ballot and referendum process. Political participation is the lifeblood of American democracy and there is no measure too small that we could take in its defense and reinforcement.
We have a reason for thinking this. The mobilization of humane-minded voters is a central purpose of the Humane Society Legislative Fund. This accounts for our storied history of electing humane candidates to office and achieving huge wins for animals through the ballot measure process.
In 2018, for example, we helped pass two significant ballot measures. California voters resoundingly said “YES!” to Proposition 12, to ensure that baby calves, mother pigs, and egg-laying hens are no longer confined to tiny cages. The same year, Florida voters overwhelmingly approved Amendment 13 to phase out cruel commercial greyhound racing by 2020. The record of success goes back much further, though. In previous elections, we have supported winning ballot measures to curtail the ivory trade in Oregon and crack down on puppy mills in Missouri. Moreover, as part of our defense of animal welfare gains, we successfully opposed a harmful and deceptive “right to farm” amendment in Oklahoma and defeated a wolf hunting referendum in Michigan.
Our support for the election of humane candidates for offices ranging from city council to the White House has been especially fruitful of late. We are thrilled to see an ever-growing list of candidates seeking our endorsement, our support, and our input on platform and policy statements. Through these and other interactions, candidates are increasingly acknowledging the electoral strength of the humane movement and seeking its support at the ballot box.
For these results to continue, governments must prioritize the security, openness, and inclusivity of American democracy. These issues are at the heart of public discussion concerning how to proceed with the 2020 election. A recent Op-Ed in The Boston Globe called for the use of electronic signature gathering for initiative campaigns. But it should not end there. We urge elections officials to take steps to guarantee that every voter has the ability to cast a ballot in the November election by expanding access to mail-in ballots, encouraging online voter registration, and authorizing the electronic gathering of signatures for ballot measure campaigns.
The pandemic crisis does not just threaten the personal health of millions of Americans. It also promises to test the fundamentals of American democracy, in a way that they have rarely been tested before. The validity, credibility, and authenticity of our electoral process comprise the very essence of the American experiment and the American way of life.
There is one thing you do not have to worry about if you care about animals. You can rest assured that during this unprecedented era in our nation’s history, we at HSLF are as committed as ever to our mission. We have been forced to alter our methods, but we’re still lobbying, we’re still advising elected and appointed officials about animal welfare policy, and we’re still laying the groundwork for our 2020 campaign endorsements. If anything, we are as motivated as ever, because this is a time when the animals need us the most.
But to accomplish this, to be truly successful, we cannot just work our issues with federal and state officials, and we cannot just send out action alerts about animal welfare. We must also protect the right, and strengthen the ability, of every single American who wants to vote in 2020. In a moment of national crisis, we can do no less.
The work of mobilizing for animal protection, and the work of mobilizing around the protection of voters’ rights and privileges, have never been more closely aligned than they are now. We urgently need animal protection reforms in areas where COVID-19 is directly implicated, like the wildlife trade and the live animal markets that have contributed to the current pandemic. But we cannot address these issues effectively without taking steps to protect and enhance the voting privileges of rank-and-file voters, in whose hands the fate of animals and of the nation ultimately rest.
Brad Pyle is political director of the Humane Society Legislative Fund.