Big Focus On Voter Suppression
Turnout so far in Georgia, where early voting started this week has been strong, with people reportedly waiting in line for as long as 3 hours in Cobb County, and the total number of votes so far about equal to the pace during the 2016 Presidential election.
Georgia’s been in the spotlight because of a brutal and bitter battle for Governor between Democrat Stacey Abrams, who would be the state’s first black Governor, and Republican Brian Kemp, who is the current Georgia Secretary of State. Why that matters is he’s in charge of running elections in the state, and has not recused himself from the responsibility despite the fact he’s running for Governor. He’s also questioning the eligibility of more than 50,000 voter registrations, marking them as “pending”; because voter registration forms don’t exactly match information the government already has on file for those individuals. Now he says if those voters show up with ID demonstrating it is indeed them, they still should be able to vote.
Still, that points to a big advantage to voting early, especially if you’re doing it in person: time. More time to fix any problems that may unexpectedly come up between now and election day vs. trying to remedy something on election day, which is often near-impossible and often results in the casting of “provisional ballots” which often are disqualified.
So, as Taylor Swift reminds us, vote early if your state allows it.
Here’s the link Swift is referring to: www.vote.org/early-voting-calendar
Another obvious advantage to early voting is flexibility: until the government makes Election Day a federal holiday, or moves it to a weekend, or mandates all employers give all employees 4 hours off on that day, it should make it easier for a lot of people to vote. At least once the 3 hour lines clear up.
Again, especially important because we can’t remember an election year in our lifetimes where disenfranchisement of voters has been more of an issue.
There’s also been a lot of confusion about what’s going on in North Dakota. North Dakota is actually the only state in the country that does not require voter registration at all: if you reside in the state, you’re automatically qualified to vote. Sounds great, right? Not to fast. Because the Republican controlled state legislature recently added a big catch: you’ve got to produce ID with a street address on it.
Many Native Americans who live in very rural areas don’t have street addresses, only P.O. Boxes, and an ID with a P.O. Box no longer qualifies. Further adding to the confusion is P.O. Box IDs were OK to use during the primaries for this year’s elections. That’s because court rulings had put the new rules on hold. But the Supreme Court ruled just last week that the law can go into effect, and so they’re no good anymore. According to the dissent written by Justice Ginsburg that means “70,000 North Dakota residents–almost 20% of the turnout in a regular quadrennial election–lack a qualifying ID.”
Why is this so in focus at the moment? Democrat Heidi Heitkamp‘s seat is one Republicans think they can flip. Last time she ran she won by less than 3,000 votes, with substantial support from Native Americans who make up more than 5% of the state’s population. More than enough to tip the balance the other way if those votes are suppressed.
Tribal leaders and voter advocacy groups are scrambling to get street addresses assigned to voters who only have P.O. Boxes. And there’s some hope that this pretty blatant attempt to block a whole bloc of voters will backfire; firing up the very same voters it was intended to suppress. But right now it’s a race against the clock.
In both these cases–and more that’ll be coming up between now and election day that we haven’t even heard about yet–only one thing got things moving in the right direction: publicity, publicity, publicity. It’s really important to report issues you may encounter to a local news reporter, or a voter advocacy group like voteriders.org.
We’ve also had a couple of people get in touch with us recently to comment on how gratifying the work is that they’re doing with another group we’ve put a lot of people in touch with, and that’s Open Progress’ Text Troop. One of our readers described it as “addictive”. And it demonstrably helps get out the vote. A lot.
Whenever we write about new voter registration rules or voter ID laws, the overwhelming response we get comes in the form of very polite comments or emails from people who tell us they don’t see what the big deal is about. They say that they vote every time there is an election, they are sure to carefully fill out forms correctly, and if they receive an official mailing from the government they are sure to respond to it. With that in mind, they say, they don’t understand why everybody else can’t just manage to do that too.
Thing is, voting is a right. It’s not a reward. It’s not a prize you get for winning a competition to prove you’re a better citizen than someone else. A 90-year old person who never bothered to vote before and now decides for whatever reason they want to, has just as much a right to vote as someone who’s voted in every single election since they were 18.
In addition, there might be a lot of factors involved they’re not considering because they don’t apply to them. For instance:
- Many people in urban areas do not drive, so they don’t have drivers’ licenses. So a good way to reduce voting among that population is to institute a voter ID law that requires a drivers’ license to vote, and is strict about all other forms of ID.
- In rural areas, shutting down polling places so the ones that remain open are very far and hard to get to is something that’s being tried. Often using the argument that those facilities do not meet code for accommodating disabled voters. This was a big issue in a largely African-American area of Georgia earlier this summer. But in that case was reversed after it became well-publicized national news.
- College students are also a target, because they generally do reside in the state they go to school in for a long enough period of time during the year to qualify to vote. So now some Republican controlled states are working to reduce their impact on elections: in New Hampshire for instance, by requiring students to register their cars in-state if they want to vote there (although that law won’t be in effect until next year).