In the days after the Nov. 6 election day, you could not turn on a television or even have a conversation without hearing about aspects of voter suppression, voting irregularities, or merely extreme voting inconvenience. The lines were long, according to most reports, with too few voting booths at too many places. I waited 45 minutes in the rain and watched several people walk away in frustration, or because they had to get to work.
My wait was short compared to those who said they waited hours in line because their polling place had too few voting booths or nonworking voting booths. At Morehouse College in Atlanta, polls stayed open until 10 p.m. because the polling station ran out of paper ballots. The voting space near Clark Atlanta University had mostly nonworking voting booths until 5 p.m. when new ones were delivered. At a Michigan polling place, the poll workers and voters were on time, but voting booths were locked in a closet no one had access to!
As I write this, several Congressional districts remain undecided. Georgia’s gubernatorial race was nothing but shenanigans, with “Secretary of State” Brian Kemp manipulating voter registration and more as soon as he realized that the amazing Stacey Abrams was a formidable candidate. He seems to have targeted African American voters with the voter registrations he did not accept because of trivial “exact match” law. Of 53,000 registrations denied, it was estimated that 80 percent were African American.
Florida has been a hot monkey mess since 2000, and while Gov. Rick Scott (R) is complaining now, he could have done lots of things to ensure a clean vote, including providing more resources for voting operations in the state’s most populous counties, Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. All of these had challenges getting recounts submitted on time, and because Broward County submitted their results a scant two minutes late, their recount (which includes absentee, military and other ballots) will not be added to vote totals. Instead, their original voter count will stand. We don’t know how many additional votes have been disregarded, but we must understand that with additional resources, Broward might have submitted on time.
We have to be better this! While our “democracy” is weighed against people who live on the margins, who don’t have driver’s licenses, who don’t vote regularly, who move frequently, we ought to be focused on ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to vote. Other countries do it almost effortlessly. In South Africa, the polls are open for three days, and these days are national holidays with most businesses and schools closed. An indelible hand stamp allows everyone to vote and prevents fraud. Why can’t we do the same things in these United States?
As we move toward the 2020 election, many Democrats are focused on who ought to be their choice of a presidential candidate. They might be better served if they focused on the laws that make it difficult for people to vote, ranging from laws that allow secretaries of state to purge the voting rolls, laws that make registering difficult, and more. Who determines what hours polls are open? Why not 24 hours instead of the scant 12 or 13 (usually 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.) presently available? Why not allow people to vote over two or three days?
The 2013 Supreme Court decision in the Shelby case allowed some targeted jurisdictions (mostly, but not exclusively in the South) to make changes in voting rules without clearing them with the Justice Department. Sections 4(b) and 5 of the Voting Rights Act prohibited changes that adjusting voting districts or taking other acts to disadvantage part of the voting population. In response to the changes in the Voting Rights Act, dozens of states passed voter suppression laws, requiring more voter ID, restricting the student right to vote where they matriculate, and more. The 116th Congress that will be seated in January 2019 ought to deal with voting rights and voter access as their first order of business.
Whoever is selected as speaker of the House, be it Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi or another leader, must convene hearings to catalog the many voting irregularities that took place during this election. The Speaker must work with organizations like the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights, the NAACP and others, to draft omnibus legislation that deals with the many aspects of voter suppression that were experienced in 2018. The Congress must appropriate enough funds to provide jurisdictions with working polling booths and enough poll workers. And the Justice Department must observe elections, especially in places like Florida, for fairness.
We send poll watchers all over the world to ensure that elections are fair. Why don’t we have a national poll-watchers corps to review ballots here at home? The reports of irregularities are staggering. Voter manipulation is an issue that must be addressed.
Former DNC Chairman Donna Brazile has called for restoring Section Five of the Voting Rights Act, but that’s not enough! The entire voting enterprise needs to be comprehensively examined, and the possibility of voter suppression needs to be drastically reduced. And, to be sure, Republicans will start talking about nearly non-existent voter fraud. We can investigate so-called fraud, as well. But if Democrats want free and fair elections, they need to make them a legislative priority. If they fail to address this issue, they don’t deserve to win the presidency in 2020!
Julianne Malveaux is an author and economist. Her latest book, “Are We Better Off?: Race, Obama and Public Policy,” is available via www.amazon.com.