This is an Op-Ed article by Amanda Weisman tying back to informed research, factual current reporting, and public policy.
The day is November 6th, 2018 and you’re surrounded by “I VOTED” stickers placed proudly on the shirts of those around you. You look on as your peers smile because they believe they have an impact in shaping the future of their nation. You wish you knew this feeling, too.
But you don’t.
Because you’re not allowed to vote.
This is what November 6th was like for an untold number of Americans who never got to cast their votes at the ballot because of “technical issues” at their designated polling place — or because they live in states that don’t allow early voting — or because they’re part of the six million Americans with felony convictions — or because they’re green-card holders — or because they’re DACA recipients — or because their absentee ballot mysteriously never arrived— the list goes on.
If you are the one who gets to preach “Get out and vote!” without hesitation, then also remember those whose voices are intentionally silenced.
According to research by Pew, “In the five years since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key parts of the Voting Rights Act, nearly a thousand polling places have been shuttered across the country, many of them in southern black communities.”
The truth is, we are living in an era of voter suppression. In cities nationwide, extra hurdles are thrown at minorities in an effort to keep them from voting. According to Pew, “Polling places have often been used as political tools to shape the outcome of elections. Officials can reduce the voter participation of certain groups by eliminating polling places, and increase participation in other groups by placing precincts in key neighborhoods.” In many a case, this has meant making access to polls easy in primarily white middle & upper-class areas while making access to polls in primarily ethnic and lower-income neighborhoods increasingly difficult.
On November 6th’s Midterm Election, many strange “coincidences” arose. You may have friends that never received their absentee ballots despite requesting one with plenty of time in advance and taking all proper steps. Maybe, you yourself never received yours. Mysterious, isn’t it?
In Fulton County, Georgia, many voters were left to wait hours to cast their ballots after the county mistakenly only installed three voting machines, according to The Hill. Many voters wound up leaving the polling site due to the long wait. Let us take a moment to reflect on this. If you are in charge of a polling place, how do you “forget” to install voting machines? And what if I told you the voters waiting for hours were majority African Americans? Just a coincidence, right? What if I told you a similar situation happened also in an African American-majority area in Snellville, Georgia where the machines were not connected to power cords and ran out of battery power? Don’t you just love when people forget to power up the polling machines?
In Dodge City, Kansas, Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox moved the only polling place in the city from a convenient central location to a new location half a mile outside the city limits, according to The Wichita Eagle. The new polling spot is not accessible by sidewalk and has no regular public transportation. To make the obvious more obvious, this means the new polling center is only accessible by car. To make the obvious even more obvious, this would exclude low-income voters who rely on public transportation and bicycle to get around.
Over in El Paso, Texas, the U.S. Border Patrol had sent out a press release stating they would be conducting a “mobile field force demonstration” crowd control exercise. Why plan to conduct such an exercise on Election Day that may deter voters from coming out? Well… what if I told you El Paso is a border city with a large Latino population?
The list of “coincidental accidents” that occurred on polling places on November 6th goes on and on, but hopefully you get the picture by now.
Change is needed even in areas that are known for being more liberal. New York City, which has been carried by a Democrat in statewide and presidential elections since 1924, still bears restrictive policies. New Yorkers cannot access absentee ballots without meeting particular criteria, and New York state does not offer early voting. Early voting allows millions nationwide to access polls in the weeks before the election. This is helpful to parents, those working irregular hours, firefighters, doctors, or anyone who has a busy life in general. Without early voting access, an untold number of voters in New York state may not make it to the polls the day of. Further more, New York holds a Closed Primary system. This means that when it comes time for the U.S. Primary Elections, only those who are registered as Republican or Democrat can vote. According to Times Union, “over a quarter of all voters in NY state — 3.2 million who are registered to vote but not enrolled in a party — are shut out of voting in closed primary elections.” That’s more than all of the registered voters in the entire state of Connecticut.
Voter reform is desperately needed across the United States in order for our election processes to be fair. People of our nation deserve the right to vote without policies or “mistakes” intentionally put in place to restrict voices from being heard.
Next time you peel that “I VOTED” sticker on to your shirt, do your part to learn about voter suppression and how it affects those around you. Be a part of the reform that gives others a say in shaping the places they live and the everyday lives they lead. This is what we pledged when we said “Liberty and Justice for all.”