How to Rock The Vote Even Harder

How to Rock The Vote Even Harder

The first time I ever voted was when I was about eight years old.

My vote didn’t count, but it meant a lot to me. It was during an election day marathon on Nickelodeon. A young TV personality invited us kids to call in by phone (with our voices) to vote for our favorite candidate. We were selecting between George Bush The Elder and his opponent then Governor of Massachusetts, Michael Dukakis.

Even though the 700 club host Pat Robertson didn’t quite clinch the nomination during that election primary, I still had strong feelings about who would lead the most free country next, and so did many other viewers of Inspector Gadget and Family Double Dare.

Bush won a decisive victory in the Nickelodeon election. It was revealed in the late afternoon spelled out in pepperoni on a made for TV Pizza.

Interestingly, this outcome foreshadowed the soon to be actual landslide victory of President Bush. Not because of the pizza part, but because the kids got it right.

Footnote: Actually the President would host a dinner for Italian President Francesco Cossiga in his first year in office, but I don’t know for sure if they ate Pizza.

Bush slid into office with 4 out of 5 electoral votes or 53% of the actual votes which by any measure is a clear win. Still, 4 out of 5 is a landslide. Fifty-three percent is more of a tilt.

Setting aside the notion that perhaps many of us were simply parroting what we had been hearing our parents parroting from Rush Limbaugh, we felt like our voices were heard and it made our mouths water.

For the 1988 elections, over 90 million Americans voted, not counting the juvenile constituency that voted through a children’s cable network. For the next ten years, I would be craving another crack at that vote and a slice of that pizza that spelled out my candidate’s name in salty red letters.

The next most memorable election for me was in 2000, just shortly after the world didn’t actually shut down due to the apocalyptic “Y2K Bug”. George Bush The Younger was running against the former Vice President Al Gore. During this election, I was camped out in a hotel room with two other coworkers on a business trip, so I had to vote by absentee. I had a brush with Italian cuisine as a part of this election as well but this time the pizza was more of a kinetic experience rather than a victory signal on television. My fellow civically engaged coworkers and I decided to watch the new coverage. The energy in the room matched that of a major sporting event, complete with nail biting moments and low quality beer.

If you were a voter at this time, you probably remember the edge of your seat victory of George Bush. As for Al Gore, besides inventing the internet and fabricating the whole inconvenient truth of Global Warming, Al had accomplished almost nothing, so naturally the WhiteHouse was decorated with another Bush.

More specifically, George Bush won the election with electoral votes of 271 to Gore’s 266. Bush had received 47.9% of the votes to Gore’s 48.4%. In the last moments of the elections, the country learned the term “hanging chads” with Florida dealing with razor thin margins and trouble counting every single vote with accuracy. Rumor has it that the humidity played a role in the improper puncturing of the punch card ballots. The huge number of retired people doing a manual count didn’t aid in a quick solution, but nonetheless, the count was completed in just a few days after election night.

The difference preventing Gore from winning the election was a margin of 537 votes that would have swung the Electoral College his way. The law required it be recounted and Bush asked the supreme court to stop it. In the end, after a brief legal battle over a recount and it’s methods, the state was declared for Bush, securing his Presidency.

I was thankful that I didn’t have to miss work to vote, and that I had beer and pizza during a historic election.

The Right to Vote

Today, there’s so much talk about elections being stolen. Some candidates are even suggesting that the election which hasn’t even happened yet may be stolen as well. Meanwhile, most voters are just trying to be able to pay their bills and vote at the same time. And that’s been the issue since 1776.

Of course voting is pretty easy for most people with a flexible job and cable, but who am I to talk? I’ve been taking the right to vote for granted since I was eight years old.

A cursory look at the history of voting rights is telling. Especially if you look at today’s voting culture in the context of the whole timeline. We’re not busy, so let's take a peek right now.

In June of 1788, just a couple years after the original performance of the Hamilton musical, The Constitution was adopted and in the process it granted the states the right to make laws regarding voting. Of course, like you and I do, each state made rules that made sense to them, which naturally meant that only men could vote and then only if they were at least 21 years old and owned land.

Oh, and if they were white.

The whites that were in power at the time didn’t see eye to eye when it came to electing a President. Some wanted Congress to pick the President. Others wanted a democratic popular vote, but then there’s a risk of everyone’s vote mattering, so as a compromise, they developed The Electoral College.

It was another 80 years later in 1868 when it was finally determined that we should prohibit slavery and even longer to end it. Since some people didn’t like the news rules, they called it fake news, and kept Black citizens from accessing things that could further their wellbeing. Because of that, in 1870, Congress went ahead and said out loud that Black men should have the right to vote, passing the 15th amendment.

Still, states had constitutional authority to control their own voting laws so many states implemented new regulations to keep the Blacks from voting like charging a tax to vote or requiring literacy tests, especially in southern states where Blacks weren’t given access to schools.

In 1920 women got their chance to be heard, but not until decades of ignored. The 19th amendment secured women voting rights. Again, states exercised their power to regulate voting and managed to block women from voting if they were among minorities or happened to be married to the wrong kind of immigrant husband.

Next in line were the Native Americans, even though they were originally first in line. In 1924, they were granted citizenship, which means voting rights. Still, states controlled the voting laws and some continued to block the votes of Native Americans.

In 1943, the USA was wrapping up World War II which had brought a lot of Chinese immigrants to the States. Since 1882 it had been illegal for Chinese people to become citizens of the US, but the law was repealed, allowing Chinese immigrants and their family members born in the USA the right to vote.

It was 1961 when the 23rd amendment was ratified, giving Washington DC residents the right to vote for President and Vice President, and not just local elections only.

In 1964, the 24th amendment banned poll taxes, and Lyndon Johnson declared that there should be “no one too poor to vote”. While that law has been celebrated, the poor (disproportionately Black people) were still impacted by states that exercised their power to limit times and places to vote, burdening those who were used to being burdened.

In 1965, Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act, banning literacy tests and enforcing the 15th amendment. The state’s still retained constitutional power to manage voting laws and some continued to create means to block Black voters during the civil rights movement.

The law required new state laws to receive federal preclearance in order to protect voters from discriminatory outcomes. The Voting Rights Act had provisions that required jurisdictions with a history of voter suppression to provide greater access to voter registration and voting opportunities to boost the count among minorities. It was a watershed moment for voters, especially those for whom the right had been blocked.

Easier To Vote

The subsequent laws were primarily focused on removing logistical barriers that could prevent people from gaining access to their right to vote. In 1971 the rights were expanded when Nixon signed a bill changing the voting age from 21 to 18 years old. This was in response to the age at which someone could be forced to be sent to war, even before they could vote for the candidate sending them.

In 1975 Gerald Ford signed a bill requiring provisions for non-english speaking citizens when voting.

In 1984, Reagan signed a law requiring polling locations to be accessible to disabled citizens.

In 1993 voters were able to register to vote at the DMV and the motor vehicle agency was then required to keep record of voter registrations.

In 2002 the younger George Bush signed a bill to systematize voting across states when it comes to voting machines, vote certification, national registration and more.

Of course it wasn’t my intention to create a glossary of sorts for the history of voting laws. I’ve painstakingly collected all of these mile markers so that you could look at the history of the struggle for voting rights in context.

Harder To Cheat

In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down section 4b of the 1965 voting rights act. The very language that was designed to prevent voting suppression was called “outdated”. Immediately after being passed, states took actions ranging from stricter ID requirements to purging voter registrations.

The measure was struck down along ideological lines with a 5 to 4 vote, and a strong statement of dissent from Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

What followed in subsequent elections were closures of polling locations, reduced windows of time to vote, additional voter ID laws, manipulative redistricting and “at-large voting” which advantages majorities by enabling them to crowd out minority voters in local elections. It was a bipartisan commission that identified this outcome, not a partisan opinion.

Since then, the racial voter turnout gap grew, with a decrease of voter participation in communities of color. Communities that had nearly achieved parity just before the ruling.

But don’t we want to make sure it is hard to cheat?

You know, to prevent people from stealing elections by voting 7 million times. Personally I don’t want to wait in line more than once. And while I sure do love getting the coveted “I Voted” sticker, I don’t think I have room on my laptop for 7 million stickers. Still, If someone took the time to vote 7,052,771 times, I think they've earned the stickers, not to mention the jail time. They’ve probably also earned the carpal tunnel in their hand for signing their name as many times.

Why not require a government issued Photo ID though? I mean you have to show your ID to buy alcohol or hop on a plane, right?

Well, unlike buying alcohol or flying on a plane, voting is a constitutional right. It’s spelled out specifically multiple times. It required no less than 15 acts of congress and at least 4 Constitutional amendments to ensure that everyone had that right.

That means that even people that do not have a driver's license or passport also have the right to vote. A birth certificate or a social security card is a legal form of ID. You can use it to file taxes — but in some states, not to vote. It’s easy to get a photo ID if you have money, transportation, time, and the stomach to spend hours waiting in line at the BMV. But that means it’s not easy for everyone.

But what about ballot harvesting? What do we do about that?

Well if by ballot harvesting you mean that my grandma was willing to drop off my ballot at the drop box because I’m on a business trip, or I was willing to drop hers off because she has mobility issues, then yes. Yes we do have a problem. And It’s that reducing early voting is narrowing the window of time I have to solve this problem.

The issue at hand is that we don’t trust elections. And it’s because people have been trying to steal them since 1776 and have been successful for almost all of that time. It took 189 years to get a comprehensive voting rights bill enacted and then another 48 years to undo it.

I’ve never had a problem voting. Not once. To me voting has been one of the easiest ways to participate in the direction of my Government that I can imagine. But a reader named Lori reached out to me last week in response to The Lorem Ipsum and said this:

“I see the behaviors of those that view voting rights as a BIG LIE and people of color fighting for that right a non deserving group”

I see that too, Lori. They’ve been fighting since 1776, and it’s time we let them win. So that we all win.