“”Democracy is based upon the conviction there are extraordinary possibilities in ordinary people…”
–Harry Emerson Fosdick
From inexcusable poverty to inexplicable racism to destruction of the land we live on, there is a rising wall of shame in our country–and not just on our southern border–that threatens to obscure the “shining city on a hill,” the America the world looks to. But more fundamental than any of these in calumny and coprageousness, because it impacts all of them–and was at the heart of the Big Bang of 1776 that gave birth to our nation–are the efforts of some to prevent fellow Americans from voting. Some claim, with a smirk, that there’s no right to vote in the Constitution, or that it’s a “privilege.” These are not “alternative facts;” they’re lies. The right to vote is referenced five times in our founding document, usually with “shall not be abridged” tagging faithfully along behind. That’s five times more than the right to bear arms is referenced, and infinitely more times than judicial review or the filibuster.
Voting is so fundamentally American that it should be as easy as taking a fresh breath of American air. Trying to prevent U.S. citizens from voting in any way, often referred to euphemistically as “voter suppression,” is, by contrast, un-American, and much more in the spirit of the word “treason” than the vast majority of casual ways that freighted epithet has been thrown around in recent years.
What exactly is voter suppression, in our opinion? Well, because some in politics have spent–and continue to spend–far more creative energy coming up with new ways to engage in it than on finding solutions to our nation’s problems, it’s hard to come up with an exhaustive list, but here are a few broad categories for starters, with more details on each at the end of the page:
We can’t solve all of the problems in these categories in the days up to or after the election, but here’s what we can do: call them out publicly whenever and wherever we see them, because they are the acts of disloyal cowards that need to be brought out into the light and shamed.
To be clear, if you’re having trouble getting proper ID before voting, contact VoteRiders–they can help, even cover any costs involved. And if you experience:
your first act should be to call 1-866-OUR VOTE, plus you should have this page from the American Civil Liberties Union bookmarked and available whenever and wherever you engage in any election activity. Demand to cast a regular ballot for as long as you can, and don’t leave without at least casting a provisional one–which you have a right to do, and make sure they tell you what else, if anything, you have to do to be sure your ballot is counted, and who to contact or how to find out if it was (by law, they have to provide this info).
But after you’ve called upon the gods of civil liberty, if necessary, and completed your self-appointed round (voting!) or were prevented from doing so (whether by feds or fear), if you experienced any of the above, OR ridiculously long lines (even after you contacted Pizza To The Polls), OR malfunctioning election equipment, OR anything else that threatens–or threatened–your right to vote and have that vote counted, we want to hear all about it, and urge you to tell us here, even if the problem was resolved, because it may not have been so for others, and no one should be experiencing these issues at all, not in the United States of America.
What are we going to do with your stories (which you can share anonymously)? We’re going to take them and use them to build what we’re calling a Wall of Shame, which we believe will have the following important consequences and benefits:
All that being said, we want to be clear that we won’t be providing your contact information to anyone unless you want to take that next step–we know and appreciate the courage it takes to step forward at all.
Help Build The Wall (one that actually will make America more American, by exposing what isn’t)
And remember: In 2012, the State of Florida really pulled out the stops on suppression. Among other maneuvers then-Governor, now Senator Rick Scott:
What happened? There was massive Democratic turnout, far greater than expected, with some voters standing in line until nearly 2 AM to cast their ballots. The Grinch who tried to steal Election Day suffered the same fate as the one who tried to steal Christmas, though only the Whos were happy.
In the spring of the past year, the Wisconsin state legislature tried something even more outrageous. With a critical state Supreme Court seat on the line, the COVID pandemic in full-swing, and against widespread pleadings on behalf of the health and safety of Wisconsinites, the legislature forced the state’s primary election to go forward as scheduled, leveraging the partisan State and U.S. Supreme Courts to overrule the governor’s efforts to postpone it. The politicians involved calculated that since most of their voters were suburban and rural, where voting lines were likely to be short or non-existent, they would gain a decisive advantage by forcing everyone else to take their lives into their hands to exercise their most fundamental American right. On Election Day, there were only five polling places open for the entire city of Milwaukee (population 592,000+)
What happened? The Democratic challenger for the State Supreme Court won in a veritable landslide (by Wisconsin standards), and the Republican incumbent became only the second sitting Wisconsin Supreme Court judge in more than half a century to lose a re-election bid. Meanwhile, there are already signs all the ways the State of Texas has been trying to suppress the vote–with support from partisan courts–including allowing only one drop-off point for absentee ballots in every county (Houston’s Harris County has 4,700,000+ residents and is 1,777 square miles in size) may be in the process of backfiring just as spectacularly; years of suppression in Georgia too.
More details on each of the types of “suppression” we referenced above. To be clear, not everyone considers everything we’re about to describe to be “suppression.” In our opinion, of course, those who aren’t as fundamentalist about the sanctity of the franchise as we are don’t really hold fast to the one true political faith of democracy, but it will be interesting to learn what you think when you breeze through our specs below:
Sending official-looking misinformation to voters about when, where, and how to vote. The most recent infamous iteration of this tactic was the millions of social media advertisements specifically targeted to known Hillary Clinton voters in 2016, all apparently from Hillary herself, her campaign, or prominent surrogates, telling these voters that they could “avoid the lines” by voting by text or tweet (with instructions how), just like they’d been doing on reality television for years. Which is just an updated version of the practice of distributing–usually in minority communities–materials that appear to come from the government, telling recipients that Election Day has been changed or extended to what would be the day after the election, or telling them the wrong place to vote, in expectation that by the time they get to the front of the voting line, they’ll no longer have the time or patience to do it all over again at their real polling place.
Sending or providing negative disinformation that appears to come from credible sources. Examples: negative articles or videos about a candidate the sender/provider knows or believes you support that appear to come from real newspapers, magazines, or televisual media outlets, or from sources with a clear, but undisclosed bias that wouldn’t stand scrutiny by independent fact-checkers; content of any kind that discourages you from voting at all, e.g. by purporting to prove the process is “rigged” or that the results are determined by “the deep state” or foreign hackers, negative content about candidates or process that comes from people you know only on social media (many of whom are not only not American, but not actually people at all).
Sending threatening communications to voters. The most common tactic of this type is sending them material that looks like it’s from the government, claiming that police or immigration officials will be monitoring polling places looking for people with outstanding warrants, fees, fines, tickets, expired or missing documentation (or just telling recipients they’ll be there at all). Another example: sending out official-looking materials that tell voters in gory detail about all the laws against and penalties for voting illegally, while often being vague, opaque, confusing and/or contradictory about what constitutes legal vs. illegal voting, but making very clear that the bright line definitely isn’t just whether you’re a citizen or not.
In this election, it appears the gutless goons behind this approach have decided to take things to another, more disturbing level, for example, informing voters over social media that they have their targets’ personal information, and sometimes demonstrating that they do, at least the kinds of fragments it’s fairly easy to obtain about anyone online, and warning what will happen to them and/or their families if they choose to exercise their voting rights. Frankly, anyone caught doing this should be locked up for a mandatory minimum of a decade or more, not in a Club Fed, and we, the people, through law enforcement, will catch our share (or law enforcement will be voted out of office as well). We wonder how many of these thugs our boys and girls in blue and Windsors will have to make examples of before this “best practice” for lowlifes stops; based on the character of those involved, our guess is not many.
Not providing equal access to required documentation. A common example: accepting drivers’ and gun licenses, but not student IDs or EBT cards, as valid forms of voter ID, even though the latter actually often require more stringent proofs of residence or citizenship. Privileging people who can afford to own cars or guns in this way is frankly and brazenly unconstitutional, as it requires all others to spend time and money to acquire the necessary documentation (e.g. for a state ID), which is a clear violation of the 24th amendment against poll taxes, whether the current partisan Supreme Court believes this or not. We have some ideas, btw, on how to fix the Court and courts problem once and for all.
Uneven distribution of offices where voter IDs can be obtained is another form of suppression of this type, unless the bias is to place more such offices in locations where those most likely to need these IDs and the most difficulty getting to said offices are living (e.g. the poorer parts of the state).
Not providing equal access to polling places or other parts of the electoral process. Where to begin? Requiring some polling places to serve much larger populations of eligible voters than others, resulting in artificially longer lines that people may not have available time to wait in, is a form of voter suppression. Providing some precincts with better, more reliable voting machinery than others is voter suppression, as we learned, painfully, in Florida in the 2000 election. Using different ballots in different locations for voters who are all voting in the same election–e.g. the infamous “butterfly ballot” in that same election, is a form of suppression (regardless of who created it).
There has yet to be a voter purge (in which people are removed from the registration rolls) that hasn’t been a form of suppression because of its unacceptable level of inaccuracy, especially because these inaccuracies typically affect some groups (minorities, the poor) more than others, and because those purged may not realize they’ve been wiped off the rolls until they show up to vote, which is often too late (they have a right to cast a provisional ballot, if election officials “remember” to offer one, or they know to ask for one, but unless they’re able to remedy the problem within a week–which is not possible in many cases–their vote is tossed).
Not providing no-fault/universal absentee voting, and/or not doing so in such a way that it’s no more likely such ballots will be disqualified than votes in person, is a form of suppression, unless the governnment is providing at least one full week of early voting, or better yet a federal holiday with guaranteed paid leave to vote. There’s no valid reason for making it easier for the leisure class than the working class to vote.
Violating the fundamental principle of “one person, one vote.” Example: Gerrymandering is a clear form of voter suppression. For example, when Doug Jones won the U.S. Senate race in Alabama, had the result been determined by the number of Congressional districts won, rather than total votes, he would have lost 83%-17%; in Wisconsin, a year later, Democrats won 55% of the votes for state legislature but only 36% of the seats. The Electoral College is arguably an even more outrageous example; it makes a presidential vote in Wyoming worth nearly 60 times a vote in California.
We accepted a certain degree of distortion in the U.S. Senate when the founders agreed that every state would have two senators, regardless of size, and frankly there’s a case to made for this in ensuring all parts of the country are heard and their rights protected. But thanks to little things like the Industrial Revolution, there’s now a level of distortion/suppression we know for a stone-cold fact the Founders never would have agreed to. And the resistance by some to ameliorating this issue by, for example, giving Puerto Rico (more populous than 20 of our current 50 states), DC, and other US territories statehood, bears a stench of hypocrisy in the historical record that can be detected from more than a century away.
Intimidating voters at the polls. Shows of force by police, especially in polling places that serve primarily minority voters, given their experiences with the po-po, are a form of suppression. In fact, because a core element of voting is that it is anonymous, the presence of partisans anywhere near a polling place is a form of suppression–how are voters to know they aren’t being identified for later retaliation? Anyone flashing a gun or other weapon anywhere near a polling place is engaged in suppression. Anyone who questions the right of a voter to vote at a polling place, other than the poll worker who looks up their name on the registration rolls when they present their name or ID, is engaged in un-American and unconstitutional suppression.