Born and raised in Compton, CA, Rodjinae Brown is a writer currently living in Los Angeles. When she isn't working, reading, or eating, Rodjinae writes essays, short stories, and poetry based on her lived experiences and those of the people around her.

Being Smug On the Internet Won't Make People Vote

Originally posted November 2, 2018.

We need to talk about how many of us talk about voting. These past few weeks have been particularly illuminating as to how ill-prepared people are when it comes to most conversations regarding voting. The condescension and pandering so often ignores and is antagonistic towards the obstacles that come with voting.

To be completely honest, it pisses me off.

On a personal level, voting has always been important to my mother, and she has instilled that in her children. So, my siblings and I continue to vote, even though some of us have become disenchanted with the process.

This disenchantment is not due to antipathy — though I would be remiss to not acknowledge that antipathy does play a role. When you have candidates that ignore, devalue, and outright mock certain communities, the onus should not be on said communities for feeling apathetic towards the process that elects those candidates.

There is privilege in voting and voting access that many people have had which others have been denied for decades. Now that certain people feel that their values are threatened in the current climate, we are seeing an increase in the fervor around voting.

Everyday, I pass by billboards reminding people to vote. I see it in social media posts from friends. Celebrities post videos or picture captions that are long pleas for people to “get out and vote.”

As if it were that simple.

Voter disenfranchisement has been a problem for decades. There have always been people who have been cut out of or neglected by the purported democratic processes of this country. It pains me to say, but right now, a lot of this furor around voting is the result of privilege.

It is not people being encouraged to vote that is the problem. It is that people are hounding others to participate in a process that is more often than not out of reach for them. Yet, all the while those telling others to vote rarely acknowledge, and almost never confront the various obstacles potential voters face in these communities.

A particularly grating trend that has gone on has been the disguising of voter registration links behind posts geared towards pop culture. They may seem clever to some, and I guess I can see where people can get that idea, but it is also demeaning and demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of what the obstacles to voting in this country actually are.

Those of us who are able vote regularly and in an informed manner are privileged. Not every person has the time to carefully comb through the misinformation being eagerly spread to figure out how to vote for matters that concern them. I am particularly privileged that my household treats this like a family activity. So, let us look at the many ways in which voters are shut out other than simply not being registered and gerrymandering.

Voting is not just a simple matter of registration though that is how it tends to be treated. The problem of low voter turnout will never be solved by just telling people to go out and vote. Treating it this way will never result in voter turnout increasing.

As far as the restrictions voters face, there is not a single new thing about them other than the coverage they are getting. In fact, a good deal of the most current impediments can be traced back to the 2010 midterms.

After the record high turnout for voters of various minority groups in 2008, measures began to pop up during the midterms purporting to ward off voter fraud. Naturally, those measures were weaponized against those same minority voters. As expected, the supposed voter fraud was nonexistent.

Another issue is that we still do not recognize Election Day as a National Holiday, meaning many people have to find their way to their polling places around their work hours. Good luck to those with multiple jobs or swing shifts.

The laws in regards to being allowed time off of work to be able to vote are actually determined on the state level. In some states, it depends on whether or not you have what is determined to be enough time before or after your shift to vote. Only in a few states are workplaces required to distribute information about options for taking time off to vote. To make matters even more murky, a few states do not have laws in place preventing people from being penalized for taking time off to vote.

Yes, mail-in ballots exist as an option for busy workers, but it is still a flawedsystem. Votes by mail are the most easily compromised. They also face rejection. Thousands of people are disenfranchised by the Signature Verification Process used by the Vote-By-Mail system.

Also, in my personal opinion, simply making Election Day a holiday would help, but not as much as people think. Anyone in the service industry can tell you stories about working on federal holidays. Think about all the times one passes by a business where a sign states “Open During Christmas/Thanksgiving/New Year’s/etc. At a few of my past jobs, I experienced the slight resentment that came from being told “Happy Labor Day,” by people for whom I was laboring.

People are also kept from voting due to the closing and relocation of polling places. When those polling places are moved, they are often far out of reach for many who may rely on public transportation and/or have disabilities. The incident taking place currently in Dodge City, KA is causing a stir. Randolph County in Georgia was only able to keep its polling places open after national scrutiny and criticism.

Voter suppression is a particularly hot topic right now due to what has been going on in the state of Georgia as well as to the First Nations peoples in North Dakota. People are finding that they have become disenfranchised by hyphenated names or P.O. box addresses. This has been going on for quite some time, but is aggressive in the aforementioned cases due to the potential of high minority turnout for those elections.

Some places have policies that disenfranchise voters when they have not voted in prior elections, which feels counter-intuitive when trying to encourage people to vote. Though I strongly disagree with this policy, it shows that those congressional and local elections that tend to be ignored are just as important as any other if maintaining voting registration is the concern.

In addition to all of this is how to protect voters from voter intimidation. A recent event that hit the news cycle was when a Black man in Charlotte, NC was harassed while volunteering at a poll site. As misinformation spreads about voting fraud, compounded by certain leaders suggesting that people “watch” or “monitor” polls for suspicious characters or potential fraud, fears of voter intimidation are valid. Little has been done to acknowledge or mitigate that in the various “Get out and Vote” messages in circulation.

Furthermore, and this is the most controversial idea that will be posited here, is that we deny the right to vote to former felons.

The way the justice system disproportionately affects minority groups has been discussed ad nauseum by persons far more qualified than I. All I can say is that this, in turn, also disproportionately affects those same communities when it comes to disenfranchisement due to a felony. Restrictions on Voting Rights for former felons is actually determined by the states. Only two states allow for unrestricted voting rights for felons, and only 15 allow for disenfranchisement to end after release. It may be more palatable to some if disenfranchisement depended on the type of crime, but that is inconsistent from state to state.

The people that are engaging the issue of disenfranchisement on the aforementioned levels live in those communities and understand the obstacles people face. They are not the ones haranguing workers in drive-thrus about their voter status or linking voter registration as fake articles. They are working to overcome obstacles even though certain entities try to keep that from happening.

My goal is not to just discourage people from encouraging others to vote. We should all vote. Yet, we are not all able to vote, and the reason why needs to be treated as a serious matter. We need to stop treating voter turnout as registration problem rather than the problem of a process rife with systemic impediments.

When you vote, when you encourage others to vote, and when you engage in any political activity, keep that same energy across the board for every election on the local, state, and federal levels. Make sure you confront obstacles to voting, and not just when you think it counts. Most of the self-righteous methods to which people resort show a lack of empathy and understanding of the obstacles that others face when attempting to participate in their civic duty.

Or, just admit that you are only satisfied with doing the bare minimum so that you can absolve yourself of guilt or blame when the process, which has never worked properly, continues to not work.

Special thanks to Reese and Joe.

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