Intentional or Incompetence—Voter Suppression Where We Live
By Wim Laven
On October 15th, 2018 early voting in Georgia started. I arrived at my polling place at 1:56 p.m. and completed voting at 4:19 p.m. It is reported that county officials were not prepared for the turnout. That’s what I observed and experienced. There were not enough barriers to queue the long line, we broiled and steamed in the humid outdoor heat while waiting, and there weren’t enough parking spots either. I counted more than a dozen cars parked illegally while looking for a spot before, I confess, I went to a nearby McDonalds.
I’m in pretty good health, but I left dehydrated. I watched two people treated for symptoms of heat exhaustion. The first older gentleman collapsed while standing up. He was scary pale, and rescue workers were called to assist him. I cheered for him when they let him into the building to vote, it took about 20 minutes of supervised recovery, and I was worried he’d need to be hospitalized.
First responders also assisted a woman suffering from the heat. Her blood pressure of 74/48 brought several of my line neighbors to tears. We talked about how crazy it was that only people over 75 were being let into the air conditioning early, that the conditions were just not suitable for so many different medical conditions. Umbrellas were brought out to protect people from the sun. There was no water available until another line neighbor retrieved a case of water bottles from her car. They were consumed in a matter of minutes, and I saw the look of disappointment on the faces of people who missed out.
I reflected on the reports of waiting 6-8 hours in Florida in 2000. We imagined taking turns to fetch food, I fantasized ordering pizza to a polling line. It was broadly understood that if all the people who’d wanted to vote for Al Gore had been able to vote for him, that he’d have won the election. Along with many other irregularities, this means George W. Bush won the office of the President because of voter suppression. Election thieves must feel emboldened.
Once we were finally inside we were reminded of Georgia voting laws prohibiting the use of cell phones. We also saw the law requiring that people over 75 or with disabilities be advanced ahead of the line. One of my neighbors who identified her disability to a polling staffer asked, “How come it says that people with disabilities shouldn’t have to wait in line, but I was told I had to wait in line?” The worker’s response was that the person who told her that probably hadn’t had the training. I personally observed at least three individuals identify that they had disabilities told they could only receive accommodation if they were over 75-years-old.
You might stop at questioning the degree to which the right to vote is protected when you hear stories about long wait times and medical hardships incurred in exercising the right to vote. But in Georgia, in 2018, Brian Kemp is the Republican candidate for Governor, and he also has official oversight over Georgia’s elections in his role of Secretary of State. He did not acknowledge any conflict of interest, but I find it hard to see it as anything but corrupt opportunism. Cobb county, where we were, voted for Hillary Clinton. Any reduction in voter turnout at my polling place would be good for his chances. If it is intentional, then it is criminal, he is directly responsible for protecting equal voting access, and he hasn’t. If it is accidental, then is demonstrative proof of his rote incompetence.
In 2018 we see many clear efforts to suppress voting demographics. In North Dakota P.O. boxes do not work as addresses for the purposes of voting. This is an effort to hand a Senate seat to a Republican candidate, because the population whose votes will be taken away—Native Americans living on reservations—favors the Democrat candidate. In Georgia we’d already watched Brian Kemp freeze 53,000 vote registrations, which were predominantly African American voters—who favor the Democrat candidate, and his political machine tried to slash black voter participation in a rural county but was foiled this summer. In Florida the website for online registrations was down (and not repaired) for the last two days of signing up. Online registration favors those who have poor mobility, like disabilities or those who don’t own cars, which end up being predominately Democrats. Black students in Texas were cut out and eventually only some allowed to vote because their struggle became a national story.
These are numbers games, this is dirty business, and it is figuratively and literally heart attack serious. Votes are regularly being decided by small margins; small manipulations have huge consequences. The vote is the most sacred feature of a democracy, but more and more it seems that winning by any means is everything. People are standing in long lines to get their voices heard, and I watched the scene turn into a potential matter of life and death for the most vulnerable—democracy is not only for the most physically fit. We must hold those responsible for these maleficent tactics accountable, and it is all clearly intentional. I waited in line for two hours today, I waited because someone didn’t want it to be easy for me to vote, and I told them “No!”
Now it’s your turn.