This morning I ran across a cluster of memes encouraging me to vote “as if this were the last fair election America will ever have.”
Excuse me? Fair?
This election is already not fair.
So, first, some historical disenfranchisement. Black men couldn’t vote until after the Civil War, and they were immediately disenfranchised by a variety of discriminatory means, including literacy tests and poll taxes. Women, both black and white, were not able to vote until 1920, although the black female vote was still suppressed by racist polling procedures. New Mexico didn’t enfranchise Native Americans until 1964, and many Native Americans didn’t have the right to vote until the 1980s. Maybe our golden moment of fairness was from 1980-2011, when a surge of voter ID laws led to Shelby v Holder? Probably not.
Now, let’s talk about making voting unnecessarily complex: Voting has been heavily suppressed in Georgia and in North Dakota, as I’m sure anyone reading this knows. 33 states have some form of Voter ID law, with varying levels of strictness–in Texas in 2014 my ballot was flagged because my voter registration didn’t have my middle name. Getting my last Texas ID took effectively an entire work day, and that was in an urban area with a car. In rural west Texas, you might be hours away from a place to get your ID. It’s not a huge deal to get a correct ID if you are a person with privilege. If you have a financial, location, or language barrier, it’s difficult to impossible.
We also withdraw voting rights from people convicted of certain crimes. (Here’s a link to the Wikipedia, which has a lovely map.) Policing is heavily biased against minorities, who are stopped, arrested, and convicted disproportionately. Racist policing + racist judicial processes = racist politicians and racist laws that the affected community is less able to stop.
Beyond that, voting hinges on a series of ableist and/or racist and/or classist general practices. My mother desperately wanted to vote while she had stage four cancer, only to find that her rural polling place had moved to somewhere with only one or two perpetually occupied handicapped parking spots. Able bodied people were parking on the shoulder of a busy highway and walking; those with physical limitations didn’t vote. Translation services may or may not be available. The number of voting machines and/or poll workers create long lines that poor or disabled people may not have the time or energy for. In some polling locations, self-appointed poll watchers are racially profiling and harassing voters.
This is not a comprehensive list.
So, no, princess, this election is already not fair. It feels fair to you because you have privilege.
Now, let’s talk about voter turnout.
It’s something of a truism that Democrats win if voter turnout is high. In part that’s because voting, as mentioned above, takes time, energy, and money that is much easier to come by if you have privilege. Low turnout means mostly privileged people are showing up, which means mostly Republicans win. (The fracturing of the white college educated vote in the last few elections is fascinating, but let’s stick with the historical generality here.) Thus, most get out the vote efforts are targeted at minorities or young people.
When Doug Jones beat Roy Moore for the Alabama Senate special election, I read an interview with an activist from Selma. She said, roughly, that she was putting in the work and getting the black community out to vote even though she knew that it wasn’t going to make any difference for them. Doug Jones won. I cried. I’m not sure if he’s done anything in the Senate or not, but I promise you that children in majority-black Lowndes county are still getting hookworm from unprocessed sewage.
That is what you are asking, when you encourage poor minority communities to vote. You are getting turnout from people who have never been well served by any politician of any kind. You are asking people to lose time from work, to pay for an ID, to arrange transportation, for benefits that have never actually trickled down.
One day in a community center serving recent immigrants, I walked past a display of letters from school children to the president. One of them said, in little wobbly print, “You promised us immigration reform, but every day I am afraid that my neighbor will be deported.”
That president was Obama.
Be mad at your white friends who think voting is ethically impure; don’t expect people of color to save you in the polls. That’s not labor you are entitled to.
What do we do?
I’m writing this on election day, when we still have the optional future in front of us. So I’d like to put out three scenarios:
1) The “blue wave” does not happen, for some reason or another.
2) Democrats win the House, but not the Senate. (This seems to be the dominant prediction.)
3) Democrats win both branches of the legislature.
And here are my three action plans:
1) Organize and fight, because there is going to be a terrible backlash against vulnerable people.
2) Organize and fight, because there is going to be a terrible backlash against vulnerable people.
3) Organize and fight, because there is going to be a terrible backlash against vulnerable people.
Your vote matters. Cast it.
But then remember that the very thing that you are voting for (or against) will still need doing.