Once again, we enter the territory of “the banality of evil.” Voter suppression acts and fighting for voter’s rights is the boring but integral work of defending democracy. Georgia’s asterisk governor Brian Kemp recently signed into law legislation which impedes voting rights by such means as limiting drop boxes, increasing restrictions and requirements for absentee balloting, and illegalizing the distribution of water to people waiting in line to vote. An earlier version of the bill included a ban on Sunday voting. Brian Kemp himself as Georgia Secretary of State enacted voter purges so draconian that he himself nearly could not vote. Technically, he won his gubernatorial race against Stacy Abrams, but the race was so close and he had suppressed so many Georgian’s votes that it is likely he does not have Georgia’s support or blessing.
1. Your Absentee Ballot Might be Disqualified
If you’ve never tried to vote by mail or absentee ballot you’ve probably never experienced the absolute horror show that is the infamous “secrecy envelope.” In fact, I’ve voted by absentee ballot exclusively and managed to avoid it because my state and local election official (LEO) don’t do that. But it, along with several other poorly worded and intentionally confusing measures is an intentional means of suppressing your vote.
A secrecy envelope is ostensibly meant to protect the anonymity of your vote while confirming your identity as a registered voter. On the surface that sounds great. Voter fraud isn’t really a thing in modern American elections, but this makes it impossible and particularly if you live in a smaller community you may not want your LEO to know exactly which measures or Party you support. Seems great. The problem with it is the execution.
Like I said, my state and LEO do not require a secrecy envelope. I make my ballot choices, write in my return address, affix postage because I’m overseas, pop my ballot in, sign the envelope and send it in. That’s it. Simple and straightforward. I then get an email confirming when my ballot has been received and when it has been counted. So I did not encounter the great origami spectacle that is the secrecy envelope until I started volunteering as a non-partisan “voting champion.”
Voters would call in via Zoom to ask for assistance specifically with absentee ballots. I would take them through the process of either registering to receive theirs or putting together their materials to send back in. Given my own experience voting I THOUGHT this would be easy.
I am what one calls a “sweet summer child.”
My first inkling of disaster was when a sweet diminutive old lady from Texas called in because she could make neither head nor tails of her ballot. She was excited to get me as her assigned volunteer because she assumed that as a young person my tech savviness would save her. It did not. And it wasn’t even a matter of being tech savvy. No amount of QR code scanning was going to save us in this instance. The issue was the instructions for returning her ballot were intentionally confusing and misleading with the almost naked intent of invalidating her vote.
Fortunately, there were more experienced volunteers present who had had discussions with LEOs from various counties and they were able to help her — and me — through the process of returning her ballot and having her vote counted.
Voter suppression is instituted with a wide brush. So even if you are hoping that it will eliminate your political rivals it very well might eliminate your own political voice or at least cause a situation where you sit alone in your home office staring quizzically at labyrinthine instructions for how to fold a specific piece of paper just so into an envelope.
2. Gerrymandering Effects You
Ideally, districting keeps communities together and allows those communities to elect representatives to local, state, and federal office. But, in quite a few states even still districting is determined by state legislatures made up of people who have incentives to draw districts which will at minimum keep them in office and often protect and advance their political interests.
California until a few decades ago sported the former kind. The ratio of Republican and Democratic districts remained basically the same, but districts were drawn such that representatives could expect to stay in office with little challenge. California decided this wasn’t on and had a non-partisan committee draw districts. California’s political landscape didn’t really change (well, it did, but not really as a direct result of the redrawing of districts), but representatives had to be more responsive to their constituents if they expected to stay in office.
The problem is as bad as California’s issue prior to assigning a non-partisan districting committee was, it’s not nearly as bad as gerrymandering can get. North Carolina and Texas are both notorious examples of techniques called packing and cracking where populations — usually minority populations — are grouped together such that they have only one representative where normally they might have at least influence on several (packing), or divided out into as many iterations as possible so that their voting power is overwhelmed by populations outside of their community (cracking). Outside of a court of law and even sometimes in court it is pretty clear that this is almost exclusively a racist practice employed to limit the BIPOC vote and thereby access to government.
It’s pretty obvious how this negatively impacts non-white populations. But even if you’re all for that — I rather hope you’re not but let’s just make a few damaging assumptions for the time being — gerrymandering can easily decrease your voting impact regardless of your race and has absolutely been used to strategically eliminate individual households. This isn’t really what the phrase “the personal is political,” means, but it kind of works. Even if your neighbourhood is “safely” redlined and all white you can easily be districted out if the state legislature decides they don’t like your representative or one of your elected officials. So yeah, you should care that gerrymandering is typically a tool of white supremacy but per usual white supremacy hurts everyone. Even if you’re a white hetero cis man your access to government is impacted by gerrymandering.
3. There is no Line Pass for Voting
The pretty obvious by design flipside of closing polling stations, limiting absentee balloting, and imposing voter ID laws is that some voters end up waiting for hours to vote. And once you’re in a situation where you must wait to vote there is nothing to be done for it. You have no choice but to wait. And this applies regardless of the hue of your skin, your age, your eye-colour, your gender, or whether or not you’ve memorized all the lyrics to “Bridge Over Troubled Water.” Ages ago I wrote a checklist for voting which included items like water and food. But this shouldn’t be necessary. There’s no reason you or anyone should have to stand in line for hours on end to vote. It is a pointless waste of your time and it violates your rights.
Even if you are of a mind that people who disagree with you shouldn’t have the right to express their opinion, engaging in voter suppression or allowing it to happen also impacts your own rights. Do you really want to stand in line for eight hours in the hopes that you have more stamina than those with whom you disagree?
4. Voting from Abroad is a Pain
The United States — likely as a function of deploying military so consistently — has become rather good about at least allowing the possibility for citizens abroad to vote. But it’s not easy.
Once again this is a function of where your voting address is or was. But the problem is even in my case where it’s relatively simple to vote by absentee ballot you have to have a current or valid driver’s licence to check your voter registration. The system is meant to be set up so that you can use your SSN, but it doesn’t work and because of the ubiquity of driver’s licences stateside, the system is very slow to change.
Additionally, whilst voters abroad are directed to use their last stateside address, or in some cases that of their parents, properties change usage. If you have an address in a residential area it is unlikely to change and you don’t need to rent or own at that address currently, but there have been cases where what was once a residence is zoned into something entirely different or ceases to exist as an address. It’s meant to still be valid for the overseas voter, but it isn’t always straightforward.
Typically the GOP does well with military voters who tend to make up a pretty large contingent of overseas voters which is why Americans residing outside of the country haven’t faced direct voter suppression, but voter suppression in the United States does suppress the overseas vote. And it does so regardless of Party affiliation.
5. Registering to Vote and Staying Registered is a Bureaucratic Nightmare
Second only to spelling the actual word “bureaucracy,” is the pain of navigating the bureaucracy of voter registration. And it shouldn’t be that hard. Once again the excuse is non-existent voter fraud, but as much as I would like to see a unicorn that’s not why I deck myself out in a wreath of freshly plucked wild flowers every morning.
It is possible to have a safe structure wherein voters are cross-checked at registration and stay on the rolls unless they move to another district with no intention of returning. It is not reasonable to assume, even in states that are relatively small that a person would or even could vote in multiple states. The logistics of that are absurd, the only elections in which that would actually be possible are national elections, and national elections trade over 100 million votes. Voter fraud is a felony so someone committing it would face severe consequences for having handed their candidate an extra one vote. Maybe two. Even if somehow it were done by a busload — and the entirety of voter fraud in the history of the nation indicates it hasn’t — it would constitute some 60 votes total. That is not something that could sway an election.
In spite of this those in favour of voter suppression routinely drop voters from the rolls on the basis that their name doesn’t precisely match some other documentation they have or that their name is similar to someone else’s literally anywhere in the United States. Even in my state where it is relatively easy to register and vote, one does have to renew registration periodically and failure to do so could mean an inability to vote.
Sometimes registering to vote can just mean filling out a postcard side page of information. But what if any of the other things I’ve mentioned in this article apply to you? What if the address you’re using was rezoned or no longer exists? What if somewhere some underpaid clerk made a typo in your name? What if your middle initial is included in some places but not in others? What if your name is relatively standard? There are, after all both a Hillary Clinton and a Donald Trump with those actual names who are not the two you thought of when I mentioned it. So, should all four of them and any additional ones that may exist not vote? Should you not vote if you have the same name as any other known person in the US?
If you actually don’t care about the tenets of democracy or old people standing in line with no water for hours on end or entire demographics refused the right to vote then we don’t have a lot in common, but I will tell you suppressing the vote will cause a huge inconvenience to you.