The path to the ballot box isn’t the same for all voters. Many encounter barriers and detours that make casting their ballots difficult, if not impossible. Sadly, the number of roadblocks is bigger in Texas than in any other state. And the impact is greatest on communities of color. It’s a plight that diminishes the strength of our community and our representative democracy.
Houston’s diversity is a powerful asset in bridging these barriers. As the most diverse city in the U.S., this region could be a leader in accessible voting practices. Our community’s wealth of perspectives can produce solutions creative enough for the toughest of problems. However, making voices heard entails another set of challenges.
Information helps. Yesterday Houston Endowment announced a $1 million grant to Harris County to make election and demographic data easier to access and interpret for everyone. Open data increases transparency in election operations and helps inform policies more responsive to voters’ needs. Better data also equips residents, civic groups, and researchers with insights to identify roadblocks and advocate for solutions.
Cross-sector collaborations are also key. As a private foundation, Houston Endowment plays a unique role in supporting civic engagement. In addition to funding promising innovations, we partner with others to build broad-based coalitions. One such partnership, Houston in Action, convened community members, non-profits, private and public sector organizations to strengthen Census outreach. This collective grew into a connective tissue pulling diverse perspectives together to take on other complex problems, such as voter access and vaccine outreach. Cross-sector networks like this are well positioned to amplify voices from across our community.
Our democracy was founded on the principle that people have a right to participate in decisions that impact their lives. Yet barriers to this right abound. Living up to our American ideal requires engagement and participation from all sectors and policies informed by our diversity of voices.