By Katherine Tinsley
Tuesday November 3, 2020 is not only the first Tuesday of the month, but it is Election Day. Voting can be scary and with the previous 2016 election and the “Russian influence,” it can be unclear to voters on who can vote, how to vote and who to vote for.
Voting and political participation is the spine of American democracy. The most patriotic thing to do is to go to the polls. However, the ability to vote is a privilege that many Americans take for granted.
There was a period in this country when Black men legally couldn’t vote, a longer period when white women couldn’t vote and a significantly longer period when Black women couldn’t vote. Activists, abolitionists and everyday citizens fought and advocated for every American to have the legal right to vote. However, even though we technically can ALL vote, voter suppression exists and affects millions of American voters—especially low income and minority voters.
What is voter suppression?
The quick definition of voter suppression is to strategically influence the outcome of the election. But how is that possible? Well, it can be done in a variety of ways, like making voting inconvenient to physically blocking or intimidating voters (which is illegal). However, voter suppression is as American as voting is. In the Jim Crow south, voting laws that included poll taxes, the grandfather clause and literacy tests were used to stop Black voters from voting. Recent history of voter suppression includes DMVs closing in minority communities in order to make it difficult to obtain a voter ID and shutting down polling stations in minority communities and, the most commonly used tactic, is convincing American voters that their vote doesn’t actually matter. However, the reality is that every vote counts.
Why does voting matter?
Not only have minority groups in the United States fought and sacrificed for the right to vote, but every vote counts. When voting, you aren’t just voting for the President; you’re voting for the Supreme Court replacements, Congress, judges, etc. Voting is also a privilege because not every American is able to vote. You have to be at least 18 years of age by the major election, have no felony charges (in nine states) and also be an American citizen in order to vote. When you vote, you also are voting for the millions of Americans who can’t. Being able to vote is a privilege and when that privilege intersects with other privileges such as class, education, race or gender, it might make it difficult to comprehend how your vote could positively or negatively impact another community that is disadvantaged. Voting also isn’t easily accessible; from requiring absentee ballot requests to be mailed to long poll lines, there are a lot of things that could potentially prevent young people and other communities from voting.
Though voter suppression might prevent people from exercising their right to vote, every able person should vote because every vote counts. The reason why voting matters is because when you vote, you aren’t technically voting for the candidate, but for the electoral college. The electoral college is why our votes matter. In 2016, Hillary Clinton actually won the popular vote and the American people technically voted for her, so how did Donald Trump become president? There are a lot of theories and data around what went wrong or right in 2016 (depending on who you ask), but Donald Trump won the electoral vote. Trump won the electoral vote for smaller states, swing states and traditionally Red states, which resulted in him winning 304 electoral votes and Hillary only winning 227. Hillary won the popular vote and won the electoral vote in states with larger populations. However, the collection of smaller states, guaranteed red states and swing states that leaned red in that election all resulted in Hillary (the most qualified candidate in American history) losing the election. Some individuals are confused as to how someone who didn’t know the status of Puerto Rico became the President, but in actuality it isn’t that complicated. We have to imagine what the election and American politics in general would look like with a higher voter turnout, especially in swing states.
How to register to vote
Registering to vote is extremely easy with the help of vote.org or contacting your state board of elections. With vote.org it takes under two minutes to register to vote in your state, find a polling center near you or apply to vote by mail. With the state of our uncertain world and the race for a Covid-19 vaccine, many Americans physically cannot go to the polls in November. This means voters must apply to vote by mail early and submit the ballot at least 14 days prior to the election—that will be the easiest way to vote for most people, but also needs to be done early.
Even with the current climate and anxiety around going to vote in-person, how to vote by mail or through an absentee ballot, voting doesn’t have to become inaccessible. Through organizations like vote.org, it is now easier than ever to register to vote and apply to vote by mail for your state.
Katherine Tinsley is an editorial intern who specializes in building the bridge between the industry and culture, self care, and fostering difficult conversations.