TIME: ‘They Have Lost So Much But They Will Not Lose Their Right To Vote.’ Advocates Fight To Enfranchise Americans Displaced by Wildfires
TIME: 'They Have Lost So Much But They Will Not Lose Their Right To Vote.' Advocates Fight To Enfranchise Americans Displaced by Wildfires
Early last week, as wildfires approached her neighborhood in Rogue Valley, Ore., Virginia Camberos evacuated her home. After a brief stay at her son’s residence, about an hour’s drive up the mountains, authorities gave the all-clear to return two days later. “I’m fortunate I have a home to come back to,” says Camberos, a regional director for Unite Oregon, a non-profit serving the valley’s mostly-Latino community. “Two blocks down, everything is just burned to the ground.”
Camberos and her neighbors are not alone. Sweeping wildfires in Oregon and California have burned through millions of acres of land in recent weeks—resulting in mass evacuations, a few dozen deaths and the destruction of hundreds of homes. Ten active wildfires in Oregon continue to burn and have already torn through more than 976,000 acres. About 20 active wildfires in California are burning through more than 2.3 million acres of land. This year’s fire season, according to Cal Fire, resulted in 26 times the number of acres burned over the same period in 2019.
But amidst the devastation, national politics loom. Less than six weeks before the general election, non-profits and advocacy groups that help communities access voting, including Cambero’s, face an outsized challenge. With at least 500,000 Oregonians under some sort of evacuation notice and upwards of 400,000 Californians living in areas under a mandatory evacuation order at some point during this year’s fire season, it’s unclear whether many of these residents will end up casting a ballot. Although both states offer flexible voting options for in-person and mail-in voting, many face significant logistical and emotional challenges. …
Kate Titus, executive director of Common Cause Oregon, says another problem is just the uncertainty of the period. Someone whose home has just burned down doesn’t necessarily know they will be living more than five weeks from now. “A lot of people in this chaotic situation aren’t sure yet where they will be on Election Day,” she says. (Common Cause supports the voter registration deadline being moved to as close as election day so people can re register new addresses as needed.)