Greetings from Las Vegas, “The Family-Friendly City”! We arrived in this battleground city last night to GET OUT THE VOTE in our final campaigning push. In the final countdown before election day, Democratic campaign organizers and volunteers across the country are working their tokheses off to get voters to the polls.
As we’ve been volunteering at different campaign offices and seeing various techniques used to collect votes across the country, we have participated in some efforts to change people’s political opinions. However, the primary focus of our campaign efforts have been encouraging and enabling people to vote who might otherwise leave their ballots uncast. With just 3 days before November 8th, the outcome of this election may depend on volunteer efforts to rally, assist, (and sometimes beg) people to actually show up to the polls.
“It’s unbelievable that some people wouldn’t vote in this election,” you might be thinking. If you are reading this blog post right now, you probably have enough of an interest and concern for the upcoming election that you will vote. (We also suspect that the largest base of our blog followers represents a demographic with a very high voter turnout, i.e., well-educated middle and upper class friends of our parents.) However, usually only around 50% of eligible voters participate in each presidential election.
During an election between these two vastly different candidates, it is hard to imagine that anybody could be disinterested in the outcome of the election enough that they would decide to not vote. Many people reading this probably identify with David Sedaris’ description of this election as sitting on airplane and being asked by the flight attendant if you would prefer to have the chicken dinner or a platter of shit with bits of glass in it. (“To be undecided in this election is to pause for a moment and then ask how the chicken is cooked.”)
Nonetheless, we have met many people who tell us “they’re both crooks,” or “no way am I going to vote for one of those two clowns” (why clowns? I don’t know. But I have heard that word used to describe our candidates many times). For the people who wish to protest the options provided by our presidential primary races, making some sort of small statement by not voting is more important than influencing the outcome of the election. Likewise, for people in swing states who will vote for a third party candidate, using their ballot as a micro-protest is more important to them than the outcome of the election.
In general, citizens under the age of thirty vote much less than older age brackets. We have spoken to a few millennials while “clip-boarding” with voter registration forms who seem genuinely disinterested in politics. It is no surprise that people may feel more invested in the outcome of the election after they have been paying taxes for longer. Even so, it sometime takes a lot of self-restraint to not grab these people by the shoulders, shake vigorously and yell “Do you understand what’s at stake?!” But apathy is certainly not the only thing that prevents young people from voting, and it would be wrong to blame our poor voter turnout on passivity alone. Voting is a complicated process that may be difficult for some time to figure out for the first time in their life.
It is a tragedy that anybody would decide not to vote, especially in an election such as this. However, the apathetic only represent a fraction of the non-voters. Most people we have spoken to in our efforts register people and provide information about polling locations actually seem pretty eager to vote. While some apathetic Americans may think their vote doesn’t matter, even those people seem to at least understand a few basic differences between the candidates. I suspect that the majority of people in this country who leave their ballots uncast are not indifferent to the outcome of the election. Rather, they are prevented from doing so by institutional barriers, complications in the voting process and direct voter suppression efforts.
Complications in the voting process tend to keep poor, young, less educated, and/or people of color, people who would likely support democratic candidates, from voting. Consequently, Democrats use GOTV campaign strategies and support policies that make it easier for all people to vote (Hillary supports automatic voter registration for all citizens when they turn 18), while Republicans tend to support policies such as strict voter ID laws that make it more difficult for certain people to vote. Through our travels, we have encountered Republican-backed efforts to make voting more complicated in several forms: In Ohio, citizens were required to apply to register to vote, then were sent a registration form in the mail with a ‘sample ballot’ that looks confusingly similar to the ballot itself. In Wisconsin, out-of-state residents are not allowed to administer voter registration forms. In many other states, there is a lot of confusion about whether or not people formally incarcerated for felony charges can vote.
Although they are difficult to pinpoint, there are also much more direct voter suppression efforts afoot. Ross McFarlane, family friend of the Daudons and volunteer poll watcher in Las Vegas, has told us that many low-income, people of color have come to the polls claiming that they have filled out a voter registration form with a volunteer in some public space, but their names do not appear registration rolls. It’s impossible to say whether or not their registration forms have gone missing due to careless errors or intentional fraud. However, there are reasons to be suspicious, especially when Republicans are trolling facebook with memes telling Hillary supporters they can vote via text message. (Ironic how team Donald is making the biggest fuss about the election being rigged).
Although these barriers in the voting process will certainly prevent a lot of people from voting in this particular election cycle, they are merely fearful attempts to prevent the inevitable. The Republican party, particularly in this election, has positioned itself in opposition to the changing demographics of this country. By denying certain people the right to vote, Republicans are able to ensure that government will continue representing the interests of the their favored groups (mostly religious white men). Consistent with the spirit of conservatism, voter suppression maintains the supremacy of groups who have traditionally held positions of power in an attempt to define who this country belongs to.
This sentiment is well exemplified by the reactions of Trump supporters to an infographic published by FiveThirtyEight showing that Hillary would win the election if only women were able to vote and that Donald would win the election if only men were able to vote. Not long after this report was published, many Trump supporters (including women) began tweeting #RepealThe19th.
There are women voting in this election who were born before the 19th amendment gave them the right to vote less than 100 years ago. It may be easy for some to forget that people have worked very hard to give women and people of color people the right to participate in our democracy. The victories of the suffrage and equal right movements should not be taken for granted, as policy makers can still prevent people from voting through convoluted voter registration processes. Voting for candidates who favor a more inclusive democracy may be the only way for marginalized groups to secure their right to continue voting in future elections.
To everyone reading this from a swing state, please consider volunteering to GOTV. The fairness and inclusivity of our election process depends on lots of volunteer support.
And to every disinterested millennial who says they’re ‘not into politics’, to every apathetic skeptic who tells us that “both candidates are clowns,” and to every jaded self-identified independent, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE, on behalf of the right to vote, on behalf of inclusive democracy, on behalf of our tax-funded schools, libraries, health care, national defense, veteran support programs, income security, postal service, law enforcement, airports, roads, bridges, trails, parks, and on behalf of our aching, bicycle-beaten thigh muscles, vote in this upcoming election.
Stronger together (and stronger after 3,000 miles of Hills for Hillz),
Ben, Mere, Jamie, Mike and Nina (in abstentia)