The Election and Voting
November 9, 2020
When the Informer team met at our article-planning meeting a couple weeks ago, the writers of this article promised to make this a positive piece, and something to bring hope to our readers after we had published “Democracy in Danger.” Unfortunately, those writers were unable to complete that task. A lot is going to go wrong in November, whether we like it or not. The best way to help would be to volunteer, but by the time this issue comes out, Dallas County will no longer be accepting volunteers to count ballots or help with the election process.
Essentially, the best way to help this upcoming election is to stay calm and make sure that you (and those around you) stay aware. Make sure that you don’t give in to what news pundits declare, and recognize that this election will take a long time. If someone calls a winner on Election Night, don’t believe them (even if it’s your favored candidate). They’re just aiming to get views for their news organization and they won’t be right (at that point, anyway). Unlike 2016, when we heard Donald Trump definitively declared President at 2AM, we won’t know who has won the vote counts until a couple of weeks after; in fact, that’s the best case scenario. Some political scientists and strategists have gamed out a series of events in which we won’t know the winner until January 2021. Ask your parents about what the 2000 election felt like—they might have a better idea of what’s to come.
The best way to make sure that the confusion doesn’t last until 2021 is to go volunteer for your favorite candidate. A landslide victory for either Trump or Biden will ensure that there are no court cases like Bush v. Gore where Bush won Florida by 400 votes. You can work for candidates up until election day, so even if you can’t count ballots, you can make sure that your candidate wins in a way that no one can question. You should also make sure that you do your own research and make sure you don’t give into misinformation campaigns. The President has declared, multiple times, that voter fraud is rampant in this country. It isn’t. That’s not a partisan statement, it’s a statistical consensus from hundreds of studies. There are cases of voter fraud that do exist, and the rate for mail-in fraud is higher than the rate of impersonation fraud (which is virtually nonexistent anyway), though this does not mean that fraud is rampant. There have not been enough voters fraudulently voting in an election to swing anything on a state-wide or federal level in recent history. If someone tells you that there are millions of people voting fraudulently, they are misinformed and you should ask them for their sources.
Other than staying calm and educated, there isn’t much else that you can do. If everyone ensures that their respective communities stay calm, our country won’t fall into chaos. However, we’re going to have to start looking at the future of our country’s election. If you haven’t, please go read Coby Scrudder’s (‘21) series of articles on our broken two-party system and how we could fix it. These article examine practices that many voting rights activists call “voter suppression” and see if they are actually disenfranchisement or common-sense measures against fraud.
Additionally, ID laws are complicated. 89% of Americans have some kind of government-issued photo ID, which means it doesn’t affect most of them. In fact, as I’m sure the juniors and seniors can testify to, many Americans keep that form of ID on themselves at almost all times. However, this discounts the 11% of Americans who don’t have access to photo IDs. This 11% is made up of the elderly, minorities, and generally low-income members of the population. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that approximately 18% of senior citizens (those aged 65 or older) and 25% of African Americans don’t have photo IDs. Now, to clarify, we should say that they don’t have government-issued photo IDs that are still valid. Low-income citizens, those living in densely populated areas, or some young adults in college will often use public transportation instead of spending hundreds or thousands of dollars on a car. The elderly are often
able to use other forms of ID such as Social Security cards or Medicare/ Medicaid cards in order to get what they need. While it should be noted that some states have passed laws which allow the use of Social Security cards or other non-photo IDs when voting at the polls, the states with more stringent voter ID laws are the ones being accused of voter suppression.
Of course, the voter ID laws aren’t the most pressing issue here. Even in the state of Texas, a state with some of the most strict ID laws, you can still go to your local polling station and request an RID (Reasonable Impediment Declaration) form and cast your ballot, so long as you have something to verify your identity. This can be a utility bill, a bank statement or even a paycheck. In the grand scheme of “voter suppression,” voter ID laws aren’t the largest factor working against getting out the vote. Something more pressing, for example, is the fact that some citizens are unable to register to vote online in states like Texas, Mississippi or North Carolina. In many cases, citizens must register to vote 25 days (or more) before election day and they must send it through the mail. Disallowing online registration is another barrier for many who want to register. It presents another unnecessary hurdle for potential voters to cross, forcing them to fill out their forms and drop it off at their local Post Office instead of simply clicking a couple buttons.
On the other hand, the vast majority of US states allow for some form of online registration beforehand or same day registration at the polls. Many states are also implementing automatic voter registration programs that allow you to opt-in for registering (which most people do) when you get your driver’s license. Unfortunately, recent cases in Virginia, Florida, and Alabama have shown that State departments are not quite yet up to the task of online registration; in these states, the government voter registration sites crashed on the day of their deadlines to register to vote. Cistercian students, of all people, should understand the injustice of being unable to complete something right before it’s due, especially if it’s extremely important.
Another issue that voter rights advocates are up in arms about is purges of voter rolls. An activity with a sinister name, these purges serve to help clear the rolls of voters that are dead, have moved, or those that have not been active in voting for multiple years. From an organizational standpoint, the purging of these voter rolls is clearly required. The problem is the execution of these purges; in a now infamous case in the 2018 election for the governor of Georgia, many voters only found out that they were now ineligible to vote when they got to the polls. Of course, this case was only made worse by the fact that the man who won the election, Brian Kemp, was in charge of purging voters from these rolls. They wrongfully purged 200,000 voters who had still recently voted and had not died or moved out of the state of Georgia. Shockingly, these purges had a 63% error rate. While these Georgia purges are the most egregious case in recent memory, recent voter roll purges have disenfranchised millions of voters. If the Supreme Court had not “gutted” the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in the landmark Shelby County v. Holder (2013), the Brennan Center for Justice estimates that 2 million fewer people would have been purged from the voter rolls.
In this case, the Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Act that forced states with a history of discrimination (so, mainly States in the South) to seek approval from the federal government before changing their voting laws. Their reasoning was essentially that states hadn’t been doing it for a long time, so there was no point in unnecessarily forcing federal oversight on them. The late Ruth Bader Ginsburg described the move as “throwing away your umbrella because you’re not getting wet.” In fact, after the ruling, then AG Greg Abbott pushed for new Voter ID laws that had previously been struck down by federal courts, and the Texas state legislature passed these restrictive new laws.
ID laws, registration, and voter purges aren’t the only way that people’s rights are being restricted. Gerrymandering plays a huge role in diminishing the votes of the people, too. Of course, this is a complicated topic since not all gerrymandering is considered bad. In fact, in an effort to protect the votes of minority populations, some gerrymandered districts are encouraged. The only problem lies when legislatures take it too far and redrawing district lines turns into a power game instead of a game in which fair representation is ensured in our halls of power. Other efforts to diminish the power of the people come in the form of long lines at the polls. Lines are everywhere, so it’s strange that voting rights activists would complain about them. Although this seems like a minor point, the problem is that some of these lines are absurdly long, almost to the point where states can be accused of voter suppression. Densely populated areas tend to hold more minorities and often more low-income citizens, and their polling places are being quietly shut down, leading to a chilling disparity in the voting wait times between minorities and white people.
Frankly, voting laws are complicated—the effects of restrictive laws are subtle and lead to a quiet disenfranchisement. Being unable to vote is often not what grabs the attention of people watching the news. However, it’s important to pay attention to what’s going on; the rights of those less fortunate than us are being chipped away. To the Cistercian audience, most of what we say won’t affect us. But it’s important that we stay vigilant and educated to make sure that those in different situations are afforded the same rights we are.