Early Voting, Long Lines, and Voter Suppression

November 3rd, Election Day in America, is rapidly approaching. However, early in-person voting has started in several states across the country and there are some concerning issues already coming to light this election year.

Videos by voters have been circulating on social media sites such as Twitter, showing extremely long lines and long waiting periods. The state of Georgia in particular had several videos circulating around with people claiming it took 11 hours to cast their vote. While big voter turnout numbers alone are not necessarily a bad sign, the long lines speak to something darker: a lack of adequate polling locations, a gutting of the U.S. postal service, and voter suppression.

Of course, it’s not the first time voter suppression has occurred in a major election, and it likely won’t be the last unless more active efforts are made to combat voter suppression and we demand better from our leaders.

Hiding in Plain Sight

It’s fair to wonder: what exactly is voter suppression? It’s not as if we are given a handbook on it when we register to vote and it’s often left out of political debates — but voter suppression tactics have been around nearly as long as voting itself. They have ranged from literacy tests to what we’re seeing now in Texas, with Governor Greg Abbott restricting the number of locations in each county where voters can drop off their mail-in ballots before the election.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created to help combat voter suppression and while it is regarded as a significant change in voting rights, like most legislation created decades ago, it fails to cover modern voter suppression tactics and problems. Of course, provisions to the act have been created over the years, but it’s proving to still not be enough to completely stop voter suppression tactics.

One modern-day issue that has prevented who knows how many votes are more restrictive voting laws. Half of the states in the United States have strict photo ID requirements, limited early voting, and tough voter registration restrictions. These restrictions significantly affect POC, senior citizens, those with disabilities, and college students. And that’s not by mistake.

Voter suppression makes it difficult for people to pass legislation that actually benefits them as well as vote against the things that would directly harm their livelihood. And the people creating and utilizing these voter suppression tactics know that. Look at North Dakota, for example.

In 2018, the state passed a new voter ID law that required voters to have a current residential street address printed on their ID. This directly impacted the Native Americans living in North Dakota on rural tribal reservations as they typically use a P.O. box due to their homes being too remote for the Post Office to deliver mail. With this new law in place though, tribal IDs with P.O. boxes were no longer considered a valid voter ID.

While it is hard to say if this new law was directly responsible for the outcome of the North Dakota 2018 elections, it is worth noting that Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp lost her seat in Congress to her Republican challenger, Kevin Cramer.

More Than a Tweet

How can we start tackling this issue in an effective way? One option could be social media. While social media won’t change our voting rights laws outright, it can serve as a powerful tool to help spread awareness of this problem. Being active on social media and educating others about voter suppression is a start that could ultimately lead to real change.

Social media activism, as those at Maryville University put it, can promote social justice. They explain, “The use of social media to uplift voices and stories, create awareness, and build and strengthen relationships creates a space for organizations, activists, and citizens to demand justice.” A few examples of how social media can be used to combat issues such as voter suppression include:

  • Platforming Lived Experiences: Social media has a long and wide reach across the globe and as such, is able to amplify and share the issues impacting people. For minorities and underrepresented communities, social media might be the only way to have their voices heard and get their story out into the public’s eye. We’ve seen it already with the Black Lives Matter and MeToo movement, but there are certainly more issues social media can help tackle, including voter suppression.
  • Coordinating Community Responses: Not only is it important to bring awareness to social justice issues through social media, but it can also be a useful tool for creating online communities where people are able to find support and come together to fight against the issues that affect their lives.
  • Sharing Pictures and Videos: With most people now walking around 24/7 with a camera in their pocket, it’s a lot easier to record and document real-life examples of injustices and other concerns. Moreover, it’s a lot easier to share those videos and pictures thanks to social media platforms, meaning more people can see with their own eyes what is happening in the world and their communities.

Of course, social media can also be used as a harmful tool in the wrong hands. There are some who still struggle with digital literacy, meaning conspiracy theories, edited content, and outright lies can also be massively shared amongst communities. And while there are those who can tell if a video or post is credible or not, there are still a number of people who aren’t familiar with the online world and aren’t able to discern fact from lies.

Unfortunately, social media activism really only benefits those who have access to the online world. So, while it is an extremely helpful tool, it can still be limiting and should be used in addition to other concerted efforts.

Changing Our Perspective

Voters who deal with problems such as long lines and long wait times often get labeled as enthusiastic and committed to their civic duty. While that is certainly true, many voters don’t have the ability to wait in line all day to cast their vote — and they shouldn’t have to. Furthermore, by sharing “inspiring” stories of those who wait in line for hours on end, it puts voter suppression tactics in a more positive light rather than exposing it for what it is.

In order to start enacting change within our voting rights, we need to change our perspective. It should not be difficult to vote. As Americans, it is our right to vote and those who make an active effort to stop certain people from exercising their civic duty need to be held responsible. With the right tools, motivation, and determined efforts it is possible to rewrite the discriminatory voting system we know today.

Beau Peters is a freelance writer based out of Portland, OR. He has a particular interest in covering workers' rights, social justice, and workplace issues and solutions. Read other articles by Beau.