voter suppression: true to this, not new to this

November 19, 2018

Illustration by Kendrick Daye

It shouldn’t be difficult to vote in the “greatest Democracy on earth.” In fact, by all accounts of the USA’s global campaign to democratize the planet, the American voting system should be the most efficient in the world. Yet this latest midterm election has awakened many of the country’s voters to the reality of the carefully crafted myth that is American democracy.

Voter suppression seems to get a new coat of paint every election cycle, dating back to the days of the Jim Crow. Adults no longer have to prove literacy or own property in order to cast a ballot, but voter purges and prisoner disenfranchisement still plague voting rights — most specifically, voters of color. Georgia served as the capital of the voter suppression debate, owing to the tireless work of Stacey Abrams. As the founder of the New Georgia Project, the Democratic candidate for Governor earned her stripes in the fight against voter suppression by long-time adversary and Georgia’s Secretary Of State, Brian Kemp.

Kemp’s management of Georgia’s voting process provided a modern-day rendering of voter suppression, drowning his tactics in language that allowed for some plausible deniability. However, there is no denying the racism hurled at the Abrams campaign in an attempt to weaponize the candidate’s race and gender against her, in a race that could have made her the first Black women Governor in American history. Florida Democratic candidate for Governor Andrew Gillum was also in his own race with history, fighting to become Florida’s first Black Governor against a backdrop of bigotry.

Georgia and Florida’s gubernatorial elections displayed accomplished, energetic and progressive Black candidates that spoke to an embattled shift in voter participation, while battling against racist machine of Republican politicking. Both candidates endured racist robocalls — a fake Gillum speaking about using chicken bones as free healthcare with jungle sounds in the background, and Abrams being called a “poor man’s Aunt Jemima.” Their respective opponents each denounced the blatant racism, but the assertion by Gillum’s opponent, Ron DeSantis, that Floridians shouldn’t “monkey this up” (referring to Gillum’s primary win), was the dog-whistle that gave racist supporters assurance of where the Republican candidate stood. It was an open-secret which is white supremacy 101.

The horrific nature of such tactics may be buried under the waves of news that inundated this 45-era midterm election cycle. But we shouldn’t move on from the fact that, when it comes to voting along the lines of race, there is a line in the sand which Republicans want to re-establish and deepen. This line works according to the rules of privilege, in that, it proves to be a hurdle that Black candidates like Abrams and Gillum need to overcome. They may not have been able to overcome it, but they came extremely close and we cannot take that fact for granted.

Black Americans are so far past sick and tired of the mechanics of the political machine, of how racism is effortlessly woven into the very fabric of the voting process. One main hurdle faced by Abrams and Gillum was convincing the consistently disenfranchised voters of color in their states that their votes do matter: even without the win, the margins were proof enough that this is true. It was so close. It is definitely not  the win they imagined, but it means something that both candidates pushed their messages in an uphill battle and still managed to get close despite the obstructions.

The American voting machine is broken. Literally, in the sense of 18-year-old voting machines in Georgia which still run on Windows 2000 operating systems. It all feels deliberate because it is. Nowhere else in the country did you hear about 53,000 registration being put on hold, but it was sold as “business as usual” because voter suppression is a feature not a bug. It’s easy to normalize when you’re in power. What we cannot normalize is apathy. Abrams and Gillum may have conceded but we can not, because to get that close means we’ve come so far. It means that white supremacy skirted by, by the skin of its teeth, even with all it’s power and it will do what it can keep its hold on power. It is now our job to keep it on the ropes.