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Voting coverage brings me full circle from my mother’s voting rights activism

I’ll report this story with the same balance and insight that I’ve brought to my long career in journalism.

A woman in a blue dress standing at the edge of a marina

Votebeat senior reporter Oralandar Brand-Williams

Oralandar Brand-Williams / Votebeat

I remember my mother filling out her last ballot — an absentee ballot — while in a nursing home in November 2016. She did it with pride and a smile. It would be her last opportunity to cast her vote. She passed away five months later at the age of 93.

My mother was a voting rights activist during the 1960s in the Mississippi Delta, where she was a secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. She took part in protest rallies and tried to help fellow African Americans register to vote, despite the blanket voter suppression of Blacks at the time. When the situation became more dangerous and my mother’s efforts made her the target of bomb threats, we left Mississippi in March 1963. Under the protection of federal marshals, we boarded a Greyhound bus on the outskirts of our town to join other family members in Michigan, where my mother continued her activism for racial equity and voting rights. My mother felt a great sense of pride and accomplishment, along with millions of others, when the Civil Rights Act was passed in 1964, followed by the Voting Rights Act in August 1965.

For me and my family, securing the right to vote has been a hard-fought journey. As Black Americans, we were not guaranteed that right our whole lives. The access to the ballot box came about through blood, sweat, and tears from those who dared seek the same promise of democracy that many hold so dear.

My life has truly come full circle as I now set out to cover stories about voting and the barriers that might threaten citizens’ access to the ballot box, as well as fair elections. As a reporter and writer for Votebeat and its partnership with Bridge Michigan, I will delve deep into issues and stories about elections from the voters’ point of view. Does everyone enjoy the same access to the ballot box? Where can elections be improved? How can we restore trust to the system?

Ever since my 18th birthday, I’ve tried my best to vote in every single election. No matter how seemingly insignificant the issue, the referendum, or how small the field of candidates, I have cast my ballot. Whether it’s an election for the City of Southfield’s school board race or the mayor and city council, the act of voting is not one to take for granted.

My own voting experiences have gone smoothly. I’ve voted without incident in Detroit, in Ann Arbor, and in Oakland County. But I realize that is not necessarily true for many voters.

Some citizens cannot vote because they lack money to get official identification. Others are homeless and have no permanent address, and not all municipalities have perfected systems to provide ballots for the homeless population. Literacy remains a problem for some who eschew voting in person because they cannot read the ballot and are embarrassed to admit it.

As a journalist, I was inspired by Walter Cronkite. I attended the University of Michigan for my journalism degree. Before Votebeat, I was a longtime reporter/writer for The Detroit News. I covered education, race relations, religion, and criminal justice. I will bring the same fairness, insightful, detailed, and balanced reporting to Votebeat when I take on stories around voting rights and elections. My dedication to ethical and balanced reporting and writing is a cornerstone of my work as a journalist. I work very hard at capturing the multiple perspectives every story needs.

Recently when a congressional candidate sued to prevent his primary opponent from appearing on the ballot over a complicated campaign-finance issue, I navigated the facts and arguments from each side to provide a balanced story. My coverage of criminal justice issues, as well as court cases, was comprehensive and included quotes from both sides in each case, regardless of where popular opinion lay.

On the issue of voting rights, my reporting will likewise be impartial and nonpartisan. I want to report, investigate, and write stories that skip the politics and cut to the heart of the issue of voting access and trustworthy elections. I also will write pieces aimed at dispelling misinformation around voting and elections.  

It is exciting to focus on this work as we head into the August primary and subsequent midterms. Votebeat’s style of journalism means hearing from you. Please send me your questions and ideas about the kind of coverage you need in order to understand elections where you live and to be a more engaged voter. Journalism that serves the public is the best way I know to carry on the legacy I inherited from my mother.