Election 2020: If it looks like voter suppression, if it talks like voter suppression…
“Oh, we don’t take those anymore, they’re useless.”
- Election poll worker when presented with a Michigan Resident Voter Registration card, November, 2016
Yes, I am the recipient of this bad news. Then I was asked for my Michigan Driver’s License, which I happened to have.
Not so fast, I thought.
The “conditionals” came streaming. Suppose I didn’t drive. Suppose I couldn’t drive. Suppose my driver’s license was (god forbid) out of state. Suppose the poll worker didn’t accept a residential utility bill which I didn’t bring because I thought that my voter registration card would be “accepted” as it had been since 2004 when we moved to Michigan.
Trump carried our township in Michigan by 975 votes. Michigan is not Maine nor Nebraska. Michigan is a “winner take all” elector- apportioning state. You know the rest.
So indulge my “I take this personally” moment.
Truth be told, I am among the “privileged” when it comes to voter suppression.
First, I was physically able to show up to vote. Second, I had a Michigan Driver’s license. Third, I was addressed albeit somewhat rudely. Fourth, though I didn’t know it at the time, my interaction with the poll worker was being surveyed by a Democrat Party affiliate “election poll watcher,” with a cell phone hookup to a legal counselor on voting rights. Fifth, I could read the ballot, which in Michigan for this art school trained literati is somewhat of a challenge. In Michigan we elect judges. In Michigan we sanction marijuana use kinda’ sorta’. And there is the quadrennial millage for roads and education (For the record I didn’t sanction the cushions for the football bleachers, an item on the last education ask).
Like the 1040 IRS form, which indirectly encourages abuse by its surreal opacity, voting in 2020 is likewise ready to abuse and be abused.
How did it get this way? I thought the voting machines were dusted off, oiled and ready to go. What happened?
As it turns out, voter suppression in America is not a novelty. As old as the vote, suppressing the vote and the voter have been around for as long as we took time out in November to show up and be counted. And to trust in the counting: ballot boxes with locks on them, voting machines with drawn curtains, electronic readers compiling returns and delivering results before auditors.
If you belong to the marginalized, the young, the old, the black, the brown, the minority, voter suppression is an old foe. You feel questioned, challenged, deprived all at once, querulously asking yourself ‘is this what it means to be a US citizen?’ If you are not among the marginalized, perhaps you feel a little emboldened once the poll visit is over. You feel fulfilled, perhaps vindicated, a ‘cog in the wheel’…even snarky.
Voting is an individual endeavor. Vote counting is a different story. For once we leave the confines of the “voting booth,” we turn our participation over to others whose job is to count the votes, double check the ballots and compile the “results.” And then we live “with the consequences” until the next go-around.
Voter suppression occurs on two fronts: preventing full access to voting and aborting the results. Usually one ruse follows another: if you can’t exclude “them” before “they” vote, then “lose” their ballots. Florida in 2000 was a leitmotiv of this process. Plausibly, Florida’s debacle in 2000 could be repeated in 2020 in most states.
In sum, voter suppression is a collection of resilient “trickle down” schemes launched by the resident power elite.
What is a conscientious voter to do?
America has endured a “Cold War” against itself with a patchwork history of discrimination, marginalization and collective deprivation.
You can hear it in “flyover country,” just lend an ear.
We are at war with abundance.
I am not issuing another list of ‘what we should be grateful for.’ Rather, the point is that we might be looking for relief to our collective angst in all the wrong places.
On this we can agree: it’s not in “acting out scarcity.” Or in acting out class lines.
The worst suppression is the one that dictates exclusion. If voting and being counted is a moment of triumph we have not come a long way in sustaining this “experiment in democracy.”
And before we throw up our hands in frustration let’s look around and expose “scarcity.” Let’s make a survey of “scarcity’s scars”:
Conflating diversity with division
Preaching reform without reformers
Selling visions without solutions
And before we suppress our yearnings for community, for comity, let’s “get real.” We’re in for the “long haul.
If you are concerned about your voting rights and what can legally be required of you in order to register and cast a vote in the 2020 election, visit aclu.org/kyr
August 15–16, 2020