Friday, November 2, 2018

Suppressing the Vote - It Works!

Image result for voter suppression

It isn't hard to suppress the vote - just make it hard to do and provide ambiguous standards for voter credentials.

We are on our way home but won't be back before election day.  Anticipating this, we requested absentee ballots, which were forwarded to us on the road.    And in doing so, we see how easy it is for your vote not to be counted.

When we went to request the ballots, I had to ask to make sure our addresses were correct.  I had checked off the box to "register to vote" on my driver's license application, but Mark did not - since we both were already registered.  Apparently, this brought my address up-to-date, as we previously had a post-office box.    We asked at the election board if Mark's address was correct, and they made noises that it was (in retrospect, I wish I had insisted on seeing this in person, but we were distracted).

And they were distracted too - as we hit their office just as primaries were about to occur.  So I think they missed changing Mark's address, and we never got a ballot.  Or the ballot was lost in the mail.  Or they put down the wrong address.  In any event, we didn't get it, and they helpfully offer to replace it if we come down in person and request a new one.   But of course, it won't get to us before election day - and in time to mail it back.  So right off the bat, our votes are off by 50%.

So, long story short, I got my ballot, Mark did not.  And you can see how the system favors people who stay in one place and don't move very often.  I can only imagine how hard it is for students and other folks who move around a lot - addresses change, and updating your address with the election board isn't something high on people's list - if they remember to do it at all.   The "motor voter" registration seemed like a great idea (and apparently worked for me) but we renew licenses only every eight years or so in Georgia.  If someone moves more often than that, it is of no help.

The ballot is daunting and requires you read instructions and follow them to the letter.   So folks who are lazy, sloppy, or just a little dense might make a mistake.  No problem, if you do, write "SPOILED" across the ballot and return it to the election board for a new one.   Of course, the whole point of absentee ballots is that you are absent - so how do you go back for a new one?

So you fill it out and mail it in - and hope it isn't lost in the mail.  So far, so good, right?   Well, it is possible my ballot might still not be counted in Georgia due to some new rules enacted by the Secretary of State - who happens to be running for governor in a very, very tight race.

If my address on my ballot is not an "exact match" to government records (the DMV or my old voter registration card, or what?) my vote might be tossed - or if I was in-person at the polls, I might not be allowed to vote or given a provisional ballot.   Seems simple enough, until you think about it.  In addition to my old post office box number (which may be kicking around in "official records") depending on who you talk to, my "exact address" is 821 Riverview Drive, 821 Riverview DR, 821 North Riverview Drive, or 821 N RIVERVIEW DR (the last being the Post Office's take on things).    Is "821 Riverview Drive" going to be an "exact match" to what is in their records?  I have no idea.

Then there is my name, which may be Robert Bell, Robert P. Bell, or Robert Platt Bell - depending on which "official record" you are looking at.   In recent years, I have been using my full name - to distinguish myself from the millions of Robert Bells and hundreds of thousands of Robert P. Bells in the world.    It is a good idea to standardize your name and address across all of your records and not use abbreviations or shortcuts in this day an age, apparently.

Then the signature.  Again, the signature has to "match" some other government record (my driver's license, passport, what?) in order for my vote  to count or to vote in person.   The problem here is that my signature has changed dramatically over the years.  My secretary once kidded me that my signature looked lame - "not like a lawyer's!".   So we practiced more lawyer-like signatures, taking cues from the enormous scribbles of my previous bosses.  So before, where it was an insecure scrawl, today it is a bold, egotistical stroke that goes right out of the signature block and off the page.  The secret to being a great lawyer is having a great signature.  And you think I'm kidding, don't you?

Assuming they can compare two contemporaneous signatures, who is the expert determining whether they "match" or not?   A handwriting expert, or a poll worker?   If the latter, well, it could be a very, very arbitrary standard as to whether signatures "match" each other or not.  If someone wants to find a match, they will, and if they want to find discrepancies, they can.

The big problem is, since these can be arbitrary standards, it is going to be up to some poll worker, or worse yet, some self-appointed "poll watcher" to decide whether my vote counts or I am allowed to vote.

It would not be hard to figure out which districts tend to vote for one party over another, and apply different arbitrary standards as to "exact match" on names, addresses, and signatures based on perceived party affiliation.   There are a lot of Democrats on our island, so you could filter us out pretty easily.  The minority neighborhoods of nearby Brunswick, GA would also lend themselves to such filtering.

Could you get around all of this?   Perhaps.   If you are conscientious enough to go to the election board, well in advance of the election (like a year) and confirm your identification information, that might be a start.  Making sure your name and address are standardized across all of your government documents (driver's license, passport, voter registration card, etc.) is another step.   And I guess you can practice your signature until it is consistent enough (you hope) for an "exact match" determination from a poll worker.

But even if you are bounced out - and given a provisional ballot - supposedly there are ways to have your vote counted - after the election.  But this requires, usually, that you go to the board of elections and fill out an affidavit, and/or provide identifying information and whatnot, within a very narrow time window.   So, if you were given a "provisional ballot" on election day due to "irregularities" in your address or whatever, you have to make a very concerted effort to make sure your vote is eventually counted.   Just pop down to their offices during business hours.   Oh, you have a job during the day?  Too bad.

You can see how this system discourages people from voting.  Closing polling locations, long lines, identification issues, and so forth and so on.   This means only people who are determined to vote will actually vote.  And it ain't hard to encourage a lot of people to not vote, particularly people who aren't too bright, easily influenced by Facebook memes, or whatnot.  In other words, dumb people, which means poor people.  (But not poor people who voted for Trump!   I wonder whether we'll see, on election day, poll workers bending over backwards to find "matches" to mis-spelled addresses or name changes).

Now, some folks might argue this is not necessarily a bad thing.  The people who vote will be those with longstanding ties to the community, not some fly-by-night student or transient.   And folks not smart enough to figure this all out or take the time to make sure it is right - maybe their vote shouldn't count.   After all, that is how our country was founded.

Yes, in the early days of the Republic, only landowners - white and male - could vote.   They didn't want people who were poor or itinerant to vote.  After all, the poor would merely vote themselves some money, right?  And that is an argument being made today - although below-the-radar.    Don't let those poor folks vote!  They'll just vote for more food stamps and Obamaphones!  And of course, there are racial dog-whistles in this argument as well.

I guess, to me, I am a little browned-off by the whole deal.   In past years, we went down to the Presbyterian church, and the little old ladies would say "Hi" to us, and we would vote, using Georgia's notoriously easy-to-hack voting machines (UPDATE:  Since replaced by a new system of electronic AND paper ballots - very secure!).   But in spite of all that, I felt pretty secure that my vote was counted.   And maybe next year, we will be home for election day - and will visit the election board to ensure our data is correct (and get updated voter registration cards).

But this year?   Well, we know right off the bat, Mark's vote doesn't get counted.  And mine?  I put the envelope in the mail box - I wonder if I might as just as well put it in a garbage can.