Hope Is Lost For Voting Rights Expansions…Or Is It?

A “Vote” sign

Republicans in the United States Senate were able to successfully stall the “For the People Act”, a bill that Democrats argued was designed to help expand voting rights and fight off some of the attempts to curtail certain voting rights in some Republican states.[1]

With this came a feeling of despair among many liberals, since a bill pushing for an expansion of voting rights, such as more voting registration options and vote-by-mail, failed. For many, it feels like all hope is lost for voting rights expansions.

Or is it?

I pose this question in light of the Justice Department’s lawsuit against the state of Georgia over its voting law, which “alleges that recent changes to Georgia’s election laws were enacted with the purpose of denying or abridging the right of Black Georgians to vote on account of their race or color, in violation of Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act,” according to United States Attorney General Merrick Garland.[2] On the legal end, this may only be the first act with regards to addressing laws on voting that critics say make it more difficult for some people to vote.[3]

I also pose this question in light of an executive order from President Biden I learned the other day—an executive order that broadly focuses on access to voting.[4] Within that executive order is a lot of material with regards to expanding voter education and access within the laws already on the books. That expansion includes, but is not limited to:

  • Work towards expanding the ability of federal employees to take time off and still vote in elections.[5]
  • Work towards giving federal employees more ability to serve as non-partisan poll workers.[6]
  • The issuing of recommendations of how to expand voter access limitations that people with disabilities experience.[7]
  • The issuing of recommendations for protecting the voting rights of Native Americans.[8]
  • Voter education among those in federal custody, consistent with laws already on the books.[9]

Now, let me be crystal clear here—all the executive order seems to be trying to do is push for an expansion of voter access and voting rights within the limitations of the laws already on the books, and all the Garland-led Justice Department seems to be doing is addressing what the Justice Department believes to be a violation of voting rights laws already in place. Neither Garland’s action nor Biden’s is an expansion of laws like one would have seen if the For the People Act passed both chambers of Congress and was signed by President Biden, nor should either action be treated as such.

At the same time, it’s not like nothing is happening on the voting rights front. There isn’t nearly as much happening as many (myself included) would like, but the push at the national level to expand voting rights is far from over.

And here’s the thing—that work towards voter expansion still has some chapters left in it. In line with that executive order I mentioned earlier in the blog post, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is requesting information from voters on barriers that keep people with disabilities from voting privately and independently. In other words, people have an opportunity to comment on what sorts of barriers exist when it comes to voting with dignity. In turn, NIST will use responses to inform a report expected to be released this December offering recommendations on how to address said barriers.[10] So, in a way, we the people (particularly disability advocates and people with disabilities) may yet have an influence on recommendations offered by a federal agency on how to expand voter access for people with disabilities.

So, is it disappointing for many (myself included) that voting rights legislation was defeated? Absolutely. But in spite of that defeat, there is still work that has been done (through the executive order from President Biden and the lawsuit against Georgia brought forth by Garland’s Justice Department), as well as work still to do.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2021/06/22/1008737806/democrats-sweeping-voting-rights-legislation-is-headed-for-failure-in-the-senate

[2] https://www.npr.org/2021/06/25/1010259443/in-suing-georgia-justice-department-says-states-new-voting-law-targets-black-vot

[3] Ibid.

[4] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/07/executive-order-on-promoting-access-to-voting/

[5] https://www.fedweek.com/federal-managers-daily-report/order-on-voting-sets-tasks-for-agencies-opens-way-for-broader-paid-time-off-to-vote/

[6] Ibid.

[7] https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2021/06/nist-seeks-public-input-removing-barriers-voting-people-disabilities?fbclid=IwAR3nWLn1mV6eTodlvC4Pl1SZRsz8e7WUQsfT7KYyKRUbgSZs0PjgXbhJdbc

[8] https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/03/07/executive-order-on-promoting-access-to-voting/

[9] Ibid.

[10] https://www.nist.gov/news-events/news/2021/06/nist-seeks-public-input-removing-barriers-voting-people-disabilities?fbclid=IwAR3nWLn1mV6eTodlvC4Pl1SZRsz8e7WUQsfT7KYyKRUbgSZs0PjgXbhJdbc

On the Underreporting of Hate Crimes

One common saying in the policy world—a saying I know as someone who can be a policy wonk, himself—is that “bad data leads to bad policies.”

Unfortunately, one area where we have bad data is with one of the major issues of our day: hate crimes.

In my blog post last Monday, where I talked about the recent shootings at three Atlanta-area spas, I made reference to the fact that hate crimes in general are underreported. While we have some data (some of which I cited in last week’s post), the data is not where it needs to be. This is the case because data on these crimes depends on the voluntary reporting of local police departments—something that can result in the severe undercounting of hate crimes. As a result, not all police agencies even report hate this data, and even among those departments who report such data, few departments report there being any hate crimes in 2018.[1]

Because of such incomplete data with regards to hate crimes in general, we’re left with a lot of unanswered questions about hate crimes in America. Here are some of the questions I, for one, have (and in bold, I explain how the answer to a question I raise could inform policy):

  • Are there any cities, regions, or states where the levels of hate crime overall are particularly high? Learning about the communities that struggle the most with these crimes may result in considerations of how to devote additional resources, or a different set of resources, to addressing the issues they experience with hate crimes.
  • Which ethnicities, religions, or other classifications are being targeted the most and/or are experiencing a rise in being victims of hate crimes, either in certain areas or nationally? Based on limited data from some major cities,[2] it appears anti-Asian hate crimes are on the rise, but it would be nice to have more knowledge of whether this is an issue nationwide or whether it’s a problem concentrated in certain areas. Such data could potentially also help inform strategies on how to deal with the types of hate crimes that a specific area experiences the most.
  • Are there any cities, regions, or states where hate crime statistics seem to be defying certain trends nationally and/or in their own state? If there are any police departments where such crimes are bucking certain trends in their state or nationally for the better, then it would be worth seeing what those police departments are doing well in preventing and/or addressing hate crimes; this could then inform how other police departments address hate crimes. If any police departments are bucking certain trends in their state or nationally for the worse, then there needs to be an examination of what’s going wrong and how (if at all) the situation could be improved.
  • Are there any regional trends in hate crimes (for example, hate crimes against a particular ethnicity being on the rise in one region, or hate crimes targeting a particular religion being down in a particular region)? There are times when numbers may vary from region to region, or state to state, depending on a variety of factors. Additionally, knowing about regional trends can potentially allow for regional solutions in dealing with certain types of hate crimes, as opposed to a national one-size-fits-all approach.

Questions such as these, as well as others I may not be thinking of at this moment, need answers, yet we don’t have them because of such limited data on hate crimes. If municipalities, and the country as a whole, are serious about anti-Asian hate, and hate in general, we need to have better data on hate crimes, which in turn can potentially inform policy on how to address these crimes. I say that because as much as bad data can result in bad policies, good data can help inform good policies.

The good news is that, as of the time of my writing this post, there is soon to be legislation introduced in United States Congress to try and address this issue.[3] That legislation, called the NO HATE Act, would, among other things, try to provide incentives for the reporting of hate crimes. This is a bill that, according to its sponsor in the United States House of Representatives, is soon to be reintroduced. While I don’t know whether the incentives for the reporting of hate crimes by municipalities in this bill are enough to result in more detailed reporting, it is promising that organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the American Jewish Committee—organizations that are extremely aware of the threats that issues with these crimes cause to the people they advocate for—have supported this bill in the past.[4] Of course, if a hate crimes policy expert happens to stumble upon this blog post, I would be interested in hearing an expert’s take on the legislation.

Regardless of whether the aforementioned legislation is a policy solution, what is undeniable is that there is a problem with the underreporting of hate crimes. A good way to honor the victims of COVID-related hate crimes, and hate crimes in general, would be to try and find a solution on this issue.


[1] https://www.propublica.org/article/police-dont-do-a-good-job-tracking-hate-crimes-a-new-report-calls-on-congress-to-take-action

[2] https://www.nbcnews.com/news/asian-america/anti-asian-hate-crimes-increased-nearly-150-2020-mostly-n-n1260264

[3] The NO HATE Act has not yet been reintroduced in this session of Congress, so I’m linking to the text of the legislation from the previous session of Congress here: https://www.congress.gov/bill/116th-congress/senate-bill/2043/text?q=%7B%22search%22%3A%5B%22%5C%22no+hate+act%5C%22%22%5D%7D&r=1&s=2. I should also note that the author of the bill in the United States House of Representatives says that the bill is soon to be reintroduced: https://beyer.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=5080

[4] The NAACP had an “Action Alert” in September 2019 urging members of Congress to endorse and support the NO HATE Act: https://www.naacp.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/NO-HATE.pdf. The American Jewish Committee gave people the ability to email their members of Congress and urge them to consider supporting the legislation: https://actnow.ajc.org/LZloT1U

An Underreported Concern: COVID and the January 6, 2021 Pro-Trump Uprising

As I said on my blog a number of days ago when giving my most recent COVID-19 update, what happened at the pro-Trump uprising last Wednesday was awful, un-American, and frankly, insurrectionist. However, I’m not going to rehash all of the thoughts I went into with last Thursday’s post, because I feel that more people need to talk about yet another concern stemming from the uprising that I’ve heard few mention yet.

The concern is that we also may’ve witnessed a COVID super-spreader event as well.

From reports I heard, there were tens of thousands of individuals at this event. And, based on images I saw and audio I heard, many of the individuals there had just about the worst conduct imaginable from a COVID prevention standpoint:

  • Nobody appeared to be practicing social distancing.
  • Few people appeared to be wearing their masks. This is crucial, as from what I’ve heard, mask-wearing is key when you are unable to practice social distancing.
  • Many of the individuals were yelling, which results in droplets from someone travelling much further than individuals talking in a normal voice.
  • Many of the individuals came from far-away places, which meant that they may’ve already come into contact with individuals on the way to the event and may come into contact with other individuals yet on their way back home.

Time will tell as to whether this was indeed a super-spreader event in addition to being an act of insurrection. But if the behaviors I saw on the news were any indication, I think all signs point toward a potential super-spreader event. If the event celebrating Amy Coney Barrett’s nomination to the United States Supreme Court (a gathering drastically smaller than the one last Wednesday, albeit with similarly poor precautions in many ways) could be a super-spreader event, then this one has the potential to be a super-spreader event many times over.

All I can say is this: if there were a large concentration of individuals at the event coming from any particular part of the country, I just sincerely hope that those areas’ health systems are prepared to handle a surge of COVID patients.

P.S. The day after I scheduled this post, I heard news reports saying that some members of Congress may’ve been in isolation during the insurrection with someone who had COVID (and as such may’ve been exposed to the virus). You can find a news report from ABC on this issue here.

Also, I will not publish a post next Monday, which is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Rural Hospitals and COVID-19

Anyone who knows my background would know that I’ve spent most of my life living in a big city. So, you might be asking why I’d take an interest in rural hospitals during COVID-19, and why others should take an interest in this topic as well. There are really three answers to that “why” question:

(1) many rural hospitals were in danger before the pandemic,

(2) many rural hospitals may be in even more danger of closing as a result of the pandemic, and (3) such closures would reduce access to care for many during this pandemic.

Even before COVID-19, many rural hospitals had been closing at an alarming rate. The problem has been particularly bad in poor rural areas here in the United States. The reason for this is often attributed, at least in part, to the fact that some states have decided not to opt for Medicaid expansion, a move that affects the finances of hospitals severely.[1]

With COVID-19, this situation is expected to get even worse, unfortunately, especially in the states that have not expanded Medicaid. That’s not to say that the pandemic isn’t taking a toll on other places, but that toll is expected to be particularly bad in places that have not seen this expansion.[2]

What this will mean is potentially more rural hospital closures, especially in poor rural areas.

It means that many in these places who need urgent care for anything, whether it be for COVID-19 or something else, will need to wait longer to get urgent care that they need, ranging from heart attacks to severe strokes. Furthermore, it will mean that people in the areas affected by these closures will need to travel further to get the care they need, in the process putting more of a burden on the hospitals that do survive (both hospitals that exist in rural areas and ones that do not exist in rural areas).

All of this, in turn, would affect places’ abilities to adequately address COVID-19. I am presenting a rather doomsday scenario because it does sound like a doomsday situation, unless rural hospitals get the help they need.

There are two ways forward from this crisis, as far as I can tell. First, states that have resisted Medicaid expansion should end that resistance immediately. Second, federal assistance to rural hospitals, which from what I have read has been inadequate, should be much more substantial.[3] This is not to say that the situation will be universally great even with these measures because the entire American healthcare system is feeling the strain from COVID-19. However, the measures I suggest above would hopefully slow down some of the financial bleeding many rural hospitals are experiencing.

For any of my readers who live in rural parts of the United States and may be affected by the closures of rural hospitals, you may want to do the following:

  1. See if your state has implemented Medicaid expansion. If not, put pressure on your state officials to expand Medicaid in their states.
  2. Contact your members of Congress (particularly if your member covers some rural areas) to ask them to make sure that rural hospitals are adequately addressing any future COVID-19 relief or stimulus plan.

Yes, I may be a city kid in many ways, but I also know that we need urban, suburban, and rural hospitals alike to be in adequate shape financially as they confront this pandemic. Anything less than that is irresponsible and may result in unnecessarily losses of life.


[1] This Forbes article explains how a lack of Medicaid expansion causes significant financial harm to many rural hospitals: https://www.forbes.com/sites/claryestes/2020/02/24/1-4-rural-hospitals-are-at-risk-of-closure-and-the-problem-is-getting-worse/

[2] https://www.npr.org/2020/04/09/829753752/small-town-hospitals-are-closing-just-as-coronavirus-arrives-in-rural-america

[3] https://www.thegazette.com/subject/news/health/iowa-rural-critical-access-hospitals-money-problems-coronavirus-relief-20201019. This source, which is the paper of record for much of Eastern Iowa, has been consistently covering the issue of federal assistance to rural hospitals.

Gaslighting in Contexts Other Than Relationships

I was absolutely overwhelmed with the response to my “what is” post last week about gaslighting. I never know when a post will resonate with my readers, and I could tell that my post resonated with quite a few of you. It’s unfortunate that so many related to the post because of their experiences as victims of gaslighting, but I’m also hopeful that some people will come to a better understanding of their experiences through reading that post.

However, I think it is worth doing a follow-up post because of things I’ve learned even since last Monday, and things people should learn as well, about gaslighting in contexts other than one-on-one relationships with other people.

In saying this, it is worth remembering that gaslighting is “a specific type of manipulation where the manipulator is trying to get someone else (or a group of people) to question their own reality, memory or perceptions.”[1]

Phrases like the following can be commonplace:

Of course that didn’t happen. You’re being crazy.”

“Your mind must be playing games.”

“It’s all in your head.”

“You’re being too sensitive.”

These challenges to one’s reality, memory, and perceptions happen a lot in relationships, as I said in my post last Monday, but they can also happen in other contexts.

One other context in which gaslighting can happen is politics—something that a couple of the comments in response to my post pointed out last Monday. When a politician makes a person, or a whole group of people, question their own reality, that is political gaslighting. In fact, as controversial as it may be for me to say this, I think that the American people are a victim of President Donald Trump’s gaslighting regarding the election results—he is trying to get the entire country to doubt the basic reality that he lost, so that he could be president for four more years (or for life). Thankfully, no amount of gaslighting can result in giving Trump an election that he undoubtedly lost, but in the meantime the American people have to deal with the fact that he has successfully convinced a group of people of a reality that simply does not exist. And, when you have someone with a large platform who engages in an act of political gaslighting, the result is that a group of people gets convinced of a reality that does not exist (as is the case here with the election and President Trump).

Yet another context that gaslighting can exist is in the experiences of people with disabilities, racial minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and other groups that face discrimination. Reading a post from Jackie at Disability & Determination helped me recognize that gaslighting absolutely exists in this context. Jackie’s post talked about gaslighting in the context of the disability community—it is painfully common in the disability community for someone to question or doubt the reality that there are certain things you aren’t able to do, or at least not do in the same way, as an able-bodied individual (or dismiss the reality of the disability in general). It can exist in the context of LGBTQ+ individuals through people who counter their perceptions of their sexual or gender identity, in the context of Black people through people who try to divert attention to how difficult they also have things in life, in the context of poor people by countering any notion that they are working hard yet struggling to still get by (saying that they simply need to work harder), and much more. Groups of people face discrimination and are gaslit about their own experiences of discrimination—a double whammy.

There may be other major manifestations of gaslighting that I did not cover either in last week’s post or this post; if so, please let me know in the comments section below. However, it is clear to me now that in addition to gaslighting rearing its ugly head in relationships, it can also rear its ugly head in other forms, such as in politics and the experiences of people in groups that face discrimination.


[1] My definition comes from here: https://www.nbcnews.com/better/health/what-gaslighting-how-do-you-know-if-it-s-happening-ncna890866