If you’re reading this, they don’t want to count your vote.
If you, like many of our readers, are under the age of 40, progressive, live around non-white people or don’t have anyone in your circle of friends and family who owns a pair of wraparound sunglasses, Republicans are doing everything in their power to make sure your vote doesn’t count.
Although scientific racism is usually a bunch of balderdash, genetic biologists report that white people are 83 percent more likely to be born with the loophole-finding gene. Ever since the Virginia colony spelled out its voting laws in 1619, conservatives, autocrats and Caucasians have concocted an infinite number of insidious-but-lowkey-genius workarounds to suppress the Black vote. (I may be mistaken, but it feels like another significant historical event also happened that year.)
In an attempt to defeat the deceptive but All-American tradition of Black voter suppression, The Root put together this handy guide for Black people who want to have their vote counted.
Look, I’m not calling you dumb. All I’m saying is that registration and voting requirements are constantly changing, which is one of the slick ways legislators use to suppress the vote. According to the National Council of State Legislatures, 49 states changed or slightly altered their rules for voting since the 2016 elections (Alabama stands alone).
Because elections are run by individual states, the available information varies widely. For instance, in Georgia, each voter gets their own “My Voter” page that shows their registration and voting status but in Maine, you have to call your local election official to check your registration status.
The only way to know what is required to cast a ballot that will be counted is to visit your individual state’s election office website, which you can find here.
While this seems like a no-brainer, voter registration rules are like Kardashians—they’re similar but they are always evolving. If you just turned 18, are a new citizen, recently relocated or just want to exercise your right to vote for the first time, every state has a separate set of rules.
It is also important that you know when you can register to vote. Leading up to the 2016 elections, nine Republican-controlled states shortened their registration periods, making it impossible for millions of people to cast a ballot during the period called “election season.”
For example, you don’t even have to register to vote in North Dakota—you can just show up on Election Day with an acceptable form of identification. In Virginia, however, you can register online, but only up until 22 days before a general election.
Of course, someone like you is probably already registered to vote, so you’re Gucci, right?
Not so fast my friend.
Even if you previously registered to vote, you may not be registered to vote.
One of the most overt forms of voter suppression is voter purges, where officials simply throw out people’s voter registrations. Studies have shown that Black voters are more likely to be purged from voter rolls. Georgia has purged nearly 300,000 voters in the past year, while Wisconsin is still trying to toss 200,000 legal voter registrations in the garbage can before the November election. Since 2017, Oklahoma officials have deleted more than 10 percent of its voters’ names from the books.
There are many reasons why your registration may have been purged, including inactivity, punctuation, the way you spell your name or even your handwriting. If someone just says that you moved—even if you live in the same precinct—an election official has the right to make your registration disappear.
So go check your voter registration now.
And then check it again immediately before you cast your ballot because that’s how they getcha.*
*Honestly, I don’t know what that means but my cousin Tyran always says it when he’s figured out how to avert subterfuge: “I always order my drink with no ice. Sure, McDonald’s Sprite burns my esophagus like I’m drinking hydrochloric acid, but I get twice as much! Never order ice. That’s how they getcha”
Concerned about COVID-19, long lines or your schedule?
Well, there are nine states (California, Colorado, Hawaii, Nevada, New Jersey, Oregon, Utah, Vermont and Washington State, along with Washington, D.C.) where every single registered voter will be mailed a ballot or a request for an absentee ballot. In 34 more states, voters don’t need a reason to request an absentee ballot or the state accepts the coronavirus as a valid reason, according to the New York Times. There are only seven states (Louisiana, Indiana, Mississippi, New York, Tennessee, Texas and South Carolina) that don’t consider coronavirus concerns reason enough to send a voter an absentee ballot.
If you are worried that Russian mailbox hackers, the Grinch who steals mail or Donald Trump’s postal saboteurs will make your mail-in or absentee ballot vanish into thin air, here’s a secret:
Voting by mail doesn’t necessarily require an actual mail system.
Thirteen states allow voters to drop their ballots off at a polling place and 11 states provide drop boxes for ballots. You should check with your state’s election official (which again, you can find here) to determine how or if you can drop your ballot off in person. Furthermore, every state except Alabama allows a designated person or family member person to mail your ballot or bring it to a polling location.
If all this seems like too much, you can just walk into your polling place and vote early.
Aside from the states that have all-mail elections, 30 additional states and the District of Columbia offer in-person early voting. Early voting periods vary by state. Some, like South Dakota, begin 46 days before the election and end the day before the election. Other places, like Oklahoma, start five days before election day and ends three days before Election Day.
Alabama doesn’t play that early voting shit at all.
Didn’t I tell you to check here?
I know, you’re an experienced voter and you know what you’re doing but Republican-controlled Southern states have closed at least 1,200 polling places since the 2016 election, Reuters reports. And if you’re Black, there’s a greater likelihood that your polling location has been closed. Even if your usual polling place hasn’t closed, if you relocated, you may have to vote at a different location. If you haven’t moved and your polling place hasn’t changed, you shouldn’t have anything to worry about.
Except you do.
Even if your address hasn’t changed and your closest poll is the same, you may be in an entirely different voting district. A number of states, counties and municipalities across the country have redrawn their electoral maps to benefit the parties in power. In fact, Shelby v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruling that dismantles the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was essentially about redrawn voting districts in Shelby County, Ala. (It’s always Alabama.) Or, maybe your polling place was moved just to intimidate voters. That’s what happened when Jonesboro, Ga., officials quietly moved the city’s only polling location to a police station.
Whether you plan on voting early or on Election Day, you should also know exactly where you’re going.
Google Maps has a great polling place locator or...
Didn’t I tell you to check here?
Another voter suppression tool employed by Republicans is to simply make Black people wait longer to cast a ballot.
In 2019, a first-of-its-kind study used cell phone data from 150,000 voters to discover that the average wait time for voters in Black neighborhoods was 29 percent longer than it was for voters in white neighborhoods. Another study accurately predicted the percentage of Black people (pdf) in a precinct knowing only the wait time at the poll on Election Day
How do you beat the wait? There are three important things you should know:
- Make it quick: Did you know that most states offer sample ballots with all of the candidates you will vote for?
- Don’t go early: This seems counterintuitive but a research team at MIT discovered that the earlier you go vote, the longer it will take.
- Don’t go too late: The shortest wait time, according to the data, is around 5 p.m. because, even if there are more voters in line, the line moves faster because there are more poll workers and the volunteers have usually ironed out the glitches.
The Root was the first outlet to report a curious phenomenon that happened in the 2018 midterms. During the election, thousands of Georgia voters mysteriously forgot to vote for lieutenant governor. But it only happened in Black neighborhoods...on Election Day...on electronic machines with no paper trail...in an election that was run by the Republican candidate for governor.
If you voted by mail, many states let individual voters track their ballots to make sure they are counted. If you vote in person, it is advisable to bring your ID and your voter registration to the polls. In any case, double-check your ballots to make sure it is filled out correctly and entered into the system correctly. And if you aren’t sure whether your vote was entered correctly, you have the right to request a provisional ballot. Many states only offer electronic voting machines with no paper trail, although some states allow voters to request a paper ballot even when they vote in person.
Electronic voting screens can be laid out in ways that can confuse voters and cause miscounts, which happened in Florida in 2018. (Coincidentally, this happened in the county that just happens to have the second-highest Black population in the state.) Sometimes machines break down, resulting in long lines, like the catastrophe in Detroit in the 2016 election. Electronic machines can malfunction and “miscount” votes, which recently happened in Georgia’s Blackest counties. And of course, there are concerns about votes being hacked, which Russian hackers attempted in all 50 states in 2016.
Republicans have created an entire art form of disqualifying ballots, sabotaging machines and literally making votes disappear. So, just because you registered, stood in line and cast a ballot doesn’t mean that it will be counted.
That’s how they getcha!
Now here comes the scariest part.
If I wanted more information, I do not know who else I could call. In reporting on voter suppression and election security, I have interviewed the top election security authorities, voting system experts and voter-suppression activists in America.
The roster includes:
- Sen. Kamala Harris, who sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee;
- Marilyn Marks, whose Center for Good Governance monitors elections;
- Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law;
- Khyla D. Craine, assistant general counsel to the NAACP;
- Chris Brill, senior data analyst at TargetSmart, an elections data firm;
- Matt Bernard, a voting systems specialist and Ph.D. candidate who serves as an expert on voting irregularity cases;
- Richard DeMillo, distinguished professor of computing at Georgia Tech University and one of the most respected elections systems experts in the world and
- Gregory Miller, founder of the OSET Institute, a nonprofit advocating for open-source election software.
Every single one of them agrees that hand-marked, hand-counted paper ballots are the most reliably secure way to cast a ballot. In April, Sen. Harris even told The Root that “we need to move toward paper ballots everywhere” because, as she explained: “Russia cannot hack a piece of paper.”
In fact, because so many absentee and mail-in ballots—which are essentially hand-counted paper ballots—are expected to be cast in the 2020 election, many experts believed that the 2020 election may be the most secure election in recent history...
Unless, of course, someone found a way to hack the mail.
That’s how they’ll get us.