“The ballot is stronger than the bullet,” said Abraham Lincoln, a president who tragically knew the power of both.
The ballot and the bullet are both real considerations this year as police departments face budget cuts, the Trump Show ratings continue to tank, and the boogaloo movement grows more thirsty for a Civil War sequel. This election cycle may see the most significant and possibly violent voter suppression effort since Reconstruction, and if the effort succeeds, mass disenfranchisement will become the new normal.
You have to vote because this election really matters — blah, blah, blah — you’ve heard it all before. But when Trump asked what black Americans had to lose by voting for him, the answer was George Floyd. Let’s be clear, you should be commended for marching and protesting for racial equality, but these protests won’t mean shit if we don’t vote in big numbers on November 3 and commit to electoral engagement from this point forth.
If we want real change, we need to develop a stronger culture of participation. Start by voting early, by mail and for more than just the president.
Vote Early and by Mail!
In response to the massive lines in black neighborhoods in Georgia this week, LeBron James asked, “Everyone talking about ‘how do we fix this?’ They say ‘go out and vote?’ What about asking if how we vote is also structurally racist?” The answer is yes.
Most voters generally select liberal candidates in big cities and conservative candidates in rural areas and more affluent suburbs. For this reason, Democrats typically need to run up the vote in cities like Miami, Philadelphia, Detroit, Milwaukee, Atlanta, Charlotte and Cleveland to have a chance at taking the state. With a higher percentage of minority residents, big cities are the primary target for voter suppression tactics like closing/moving polling places and purging voter rolls. That’s why urban polling places often have longer lines than those in rural communities, and longer lines can complicate parking, childcare and day jobs.
Voter suppression also includes efforts to reduce early voting and limit mail-in voting. In fact, several states already prohibit absentee voting without a narrowly defined excuse, though they will, as New York magazine put it, “waive excuse requirements for Republican–leaning old folks.” Trump is leading the charge to stop most mail-in voting, which itself is a reason to vote by mail, but it also reduces Covid-19 risk and issues like long lines, intimidation or potentially even worse. What if a handful of boogaloo boys shoot up a few polling places in the aforementioned cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia and Milwaukee? In such a scenario, Trump would either win the election or likely stay in office until we can schedule a new one.
If eligible to vote by mail, request a mail-in ballot now, knowing that some ballots arrive damaged or not at all. Then send in your ballot right away because it takes time to count them. We don’t want the election result to drag out for several days lest someone with fake hair suggest foul play. Sign your name clearly because they will challenge ballots, and ideally send it directly from the post office to keep the envelope (and its postmark date) as clean and clear as possible.
If you live in a state that doesn’t allow absentee voting, see if you can vote early, or ask the boss to give everyone a few hours off to vote. Several restaurants have already taken the initiative to do so.
Vote Down Ballot
The top of the ticket is the marquee matchup, but like Coachella, you should definitely pay attention to the undercard. Here are some down-ballot votes that can have a major impact on your community.
Mayor and City Council
Law enforcement is made up of about 18,000 federal, state, county, and local agencies — that’s a lot of different agencies — but the most relevant one right now is the police department. Police unions tend to be powerful, and we need city officials — mayors, council members — who will push for reform, transparency and accountability. These unions are effective at pushing back by claiming (often falsely) that such-and-such reformer candidate will make the city less safe. We need more voters who think for themselves to choose city officials willing to reform any problem area, including law enforcement.
Secretary of State
Voters in 35 states directly elect their secretaries of state, who usually oversee state elections and the official results. In 2013, the conservative Supreme Court justices voted to strip voter protections from the Civil Rights Act, and the suppression that followed inspired the New York Times headline, “‘They Don’t Really Want Us to Vote’: How Republicans Made It Harder.” For example, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp, who oversaw his own contested gubernatorial election as secretary of state, purged voter rolls and closed polling stations, and his successor oversaw the primary disaster that LeBron James referenced this past week. Many critics think this clusterfuck is a preview of what to expect on Election Day. Making an informed vote for your secretary of state can be vitally important for a fair and honest democracy.
Judges, Prosecutors and Sheriffs
Voters in most states elect their attorney generals, sheriffs, judges and district or state’s attorneys. Your vote — or lack thereof — directly impacts issues like mass incarceration, non-violent drug arrests and political corruption. For example, your county might have a wanna-be Joe Arpaio running for sheriff, and you don’t even know it. That’s why it’s important to seek reliable information on the candidates. As a general rule, also see where they stand on the issue of cannabis. We don’t want to be single-issue voters, but it says a lot about a candidate if he or she does not support legalization or at least decriminalization.
The legislature is the state’s version of congress, with both an upper house (Senate) and lower house (Assembly or House). Most people don’t know the names of their state senators or assembly person, but these individuals likely have a more direct impact on your life than their federal counterparts. This makes your vote (and any campaign assistance you might provide) that much more valuable. Remember, if states had better legislators, we wouldn’t have needed so many common-sense ballot initiatives.