Means and Motive to Deny the Franchise

Knowledge is the sole armament that may defeat voter suppression

Dan Feininger
Jun 17, 2020 · 5 min read

There is a surprisingly simple path to electoral victory through voter denial in the current virus climate. This statement should be jarring to anyone reading it, and yet voter disenfranchisement has been commonplace in both our modern and historical America.

The Motive

Jim Crow laws enacted to strip black Americans of their liberties throughout the early twentieth century focused primarily on one aspect of black mobility: voting. The racists knew then as they know now: In order to keep black people down, you must keep them out of the voting booth.

As a brief aside, it is simple fact that the deniers of franchise exist today within the Republican party. In another era, deniers organized under the moniker of ‘Democrat,’ so labeling is only helpful insofar as to reveal alignment of real-time perpetrators. Labeling allows the worst offenders to hide behind coalition; Wilbur Ross’ efforts to redesign census questions in an effort to under count Latinos comes to mind. The outrage has subsided in large part because this effort fades into a larger agenda of White House policies.

We cannot allow blockades of our voting rights to fade into the larger hum of background noise. Aggressively moving to consider and counter disenfranchisement efforts is the duty of every citizen.

I am a white, male, Republican-registered voter from Florida. While my vote may not be in jeopardy, the thought of anyone having to fight to make their voice heard boils my blood. This is the ‘longer history of empire,’ and something that even Americans — not invited to the first phase of European imperialism — must grapple with today. As the beneficiary of history’s timelessly unequal distribution, it is far easier for me to accept the bounty of a nation’s two hundred year old wealth than to actively challenge these barriers that strangle those who don’t look, sound, or think like me.

Social and political views should and must remain constantly in contest, because the landscape they exist within is always in flux. Not just from a demographic standpoint, but morally, too. Ten years ago, gay men and women could not marry the partners they loved in the United States. Before Ernesto Miranda’s eventual Supreme Court challenge in 1966, the Fifth Amendment right not to self-incriminate was understood in a radically different context. Today, if the police don’t explicitly read a suspect the “Miranda Rights,” the entire arrest is subject to dismissal, regardless of the evidence.

It is a sad truth, but one we must understand in order to combat: Voter suppression is done because certain people in power would rather remain static than embrace the uncertainty of a nation transformed. Today, as before, that power radiates from old, white men, many in fear of an America guided principally by virtues of black, Latino, young, or female leaders. To its endpoint, old, white men fear an explosive and violent backlash two hundred years in the making.

Rather than embrace the eventuality of a white minority in the United States, or work to improve the conditions that hold down some Americans generationally, these certain leaders choose instead to bar them from exercising their right to vote.

The Means

Coronavirus restrictions present a fantastic opportunity for vote deniers across the country. In order to erect barriers, the first step is executive actions that limit and then halt voting by mail. By mandating vote-in-person, many voters will not participate because of work or other constraints, possibly even out of fear of coronavirus contraction — as was the case in the Wisconsin primary in April. Limiting voting options will ultimately squeeze voters and marginally dwindle the pool.

Remember, in national elections, the electoral college decides, so dwindling the pool in key battleground states is all that matters: 537 votes in Florida decided the entire 2000 Presidential race.

After instituting in-person voting, governors could move to close polling locations (already happening in N.D., Texas, Ariz., Ga., and elsewhere). A focused effort to shutter stations in ‘high risk’ areas such as New York’s hot zones in Starrett City, Flushing, and Edgemere neighborhoods would further bar targeted residents from participation. Longer travel coupled with longer lines as a result of limited openings would dissuade many voters.

Executives could take these measures to the next level by instituting nominal health checks before entry. To really rile people up, this could be done just before stepping into the polling booths: after waiting in line alongside potential virus carriers, and in sight of the prize. By taking temperatures, or some other non-informative means of ‘checking’ for the virus, officials could deny voters on the spot with little oversight.

Finally, through the use of widespread contact tracing — and overlapping executive action — it is conceivable that disenfranchisement could be performed at a distance. By singling out individuals who have been in recent contact with an infected person, officials could make the claim that their presence at the station poses an immediate health risk to others and ban them from participation. Taken to its extent, a malicious governor could wield this technology to target voters likely to select his or her opposition without regard for the contact prerequisite.

The Aftermath

Voting is a right of every American and must be safeguarded. It is the duty of those who are not at risk to protect those who are. Just as protests rage across the country in response to yet another police murder of a defenseless black man, some cops are choosing to act in solidarity with the aggrieved. Others are shoving, pepper spraying, shooting, and arresting peaceful agents of protest.

The only way to change this is to participate, all across the ballot. Arm yourself with knowledge and flex your voting power by selecting your choice for President, as well as Congress, School Board, Sheriff, Judge, and any other race presented.

Racists and cheaters win through silence. I am not suggesting that the President or any state governor will work to enact these or other measures that create large scale voter suppression. Rather, that blocking the vote has been a means to secure victory for as long as Americans have been voting. Rather than sit back and watch it happen, we must act so that on Tuesday, 03 November, every American voter who wants to exercise his or her right to choose is able to. We all have our politics and preferences, but in the long run it hardly matters who wins as long as Americans are given the freedom to choose.

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