What does it look like? What can you do?
During the last primary election, my husband and I went to the polls to vote, toddler in tow. It was primarily out of necessity that our little one was with us, but I tried to recall a time when, as a child, I’d gone to the polls with my parents, and I couldn’t. Because it never happened. My parents, for whatever reason, had never taken me to a polling station and rarely discussed the voting process with me which might be why I was in my 30s before I even registered to vote. My husband, on the other hand, can recall going to the voting booth with his parents.
Perhaps that’s why he noticed something I hadn’t. Potential voter suppression.
We’d gone to the polling station, which was housed in a local church, and when we arrived another family was returning to their car, confused. There was a sign on the door that we couldn't read from the car, and since our little one was dozing my husband left the car to read the sign on the door and make sure he’d parked in the right location. The sign on the door said, “Polls are located in MacKenzie Hall” but there was no map or direction to indicate where MacKenzie Hall was located. I watched my husband as he stalked to another door, jerked it open, and stuck his head in. When he returned to the car, he said “Clearly, they want to make sure only certain people vote here” and we drove across the 4 lane highway to the other side of the church’s campus to cast our ballot. The family we’d seen when we first pulled into the parking lot - the family that wasn’t white - was nowhere to be found. My first inclination would have been to assume the best of the polling location, that they simply didn't consider the possibility that non-church members would be voting on their campus, but my husband, the effervescent Negative Ned, wasn't willing to be so generous. The polling station was nearly empty and the only people who arrived after us were white. One woman of color was there - volunteering. I asked if she went to church there and she shook her head and smiled a little awkwardly, “I offered to volunteer and this is where I was assigned.”
We had no idea who to report this flagrant misdirection to, but it seemed pretty clear that something was amiss.
According to Yolanda McCloud Gordon, a political advocate, Senior Associate of Expansion Advocacy at RESULTS, and a member of the MAR leadership team: “Voter suppression is not new. It is something that has existed since before the Voting Rights Act of 1965 when black voters were subjected to a literacy test or told to count the number of marbles in a jar. It has become more sophisticated over the years with the introduction of voter ID laws, the elimination of DMVs in majority black counties, and the closure of polling places in majority black precincts.”
Other tactics of suppressing the right to vote include purging voters from the rolls, challenging a person’s right to vote at a particular precinct, and as of 2013, states have the right to change their voter laws without clearing those changes with the federal government in advance.
What are your options if your right to vote is challenged?
You can ask for a provisional ballot - which McCloud-Gordon says is generally the best option in the moment. You can also coordinate a letter writing campaign and petition to have the voter laws changed.