Why Is It So Damn Hard To Vote?

Illustration for article titled Why Is It So Damn Hard To Vote?
Photo: iStock

They don’t want you to vote.

I am not a conspiracy theorist, nor do I believe in the mythical “they.” So, for years, I have always wondered why more black people didn’t vote. Even if one doesn’t believe in politics, democracy or supporting a political system founded on white supremacy, I vote for the same reason I don’t eat vegetarian tofu burgers at cookouts:

Out of respect for my ancestors.

To make my grandmothers happy, I recently thought it would be a good idea if The Root could put together a guide to voting for our readers. I figured that we only needed to include three pieces of information for each state

  • The last day to register.
  • A link to download the registration form.
  • A link for registering online.

How hard could that be? I figured it might take me an hour using Google (which has a special feature that shows you where and how to vote), Vote.org (which lists the rules for voting in each state) and HeadCount, which has a link to each state’s Secretary of State voting page. It seemed so simple.

It took me an entire day.

When I say “an entire day,” I literally mean eight hours. It turns out that voting is complicated as fuck! Even with this goddamn magical box on my desk that literally knows everything, there are so many extraneous rules and procedures to voting, it’s a miracle that we have as many voters as we do.

In fact, the only thing a reasonable person could conclude is that officials really don’t want people voting. That has to be the answer. Imagine if any business made it this hard to pay for their products or services. Even better, imagine if you went to the mall and each store opened at a different time, made it difficult to enter and accepted a different kind of currency. The only reason anyone would do something that idiotic is to because they wanted to discourage some customers from shopping there.


Here’s how I know they don’t want you to vote.

Voter registration is a scam.

Seriously, the fact that we even have to register to vote is bullshit. Do you know how I know this? Because in North Dakota, you just show up with some form of ID and vote!


In fact, there are at least eight states where you can show up at the polls on Election Day with some kind of proof of your identification and cast your ballot. But the other states don’t call it the “show-up-and-vote” law. Every state calls it something different. Some states call it “same-day registration.” California calls it “conditional registration” and describes it this way:

If you did not register to vote by the 15-day voter registration deadline, in most elections, you may conditionally register to vote and cast a provisional ballot by visiting your county elections office, a vote center, or a designated satellite location during the period of 14 days prior to, and including, Election Day.

Once your county elections official processes your affidavit of registration, determines your eligibility to register, and validates your information, your registration becomes permanent and your provisional ballot will be counted.


Doesn’t that sound complicated? If I were elected as California’s Secretary of State, do you know what name I’d give that policy? It might be a little technical, but here’s what I’d call it:


Isn’t all voter registration conditional? If I can prove my identity and my address when I show up at the polls, why the hell would I ever need to register? I know you might be thinking that registering at the polls could take a long time if they had to check everyone’s registration on the same day, which brings me to my second point.


Election Day is a scam.

Why do we only vote on a random-ass Tuesday in November? Why not on the weekend, when more people are likely to vote? Or why not a whole week of voting? If I can mail in my register to vote by mail, why can’t I also vote by mail?


Well, actually ... you probably can.

Again, this is where it gets complicated. According to the National Council on State Legislatures, 34 states have early voting where you can show up to a county elections office and cast your ballot. Twenty-seven states have no-excuse absentee voting, where you can just mail in your ballot.


Each state has different early voting periods, late registration periods and hours for voting. But by far, Illinois has the stupidest, most complicated explanation for voter registration hours in the history of the world.

In Illinois, you can register to vote year-round, except for the 27-day period before an election. But if you do it online, you can register up to 16 days before an election. And you can even vote before Election Day, in mail or in person.


Hey, remember what I said waaay back two sentences ago about needing to register 27 days before an election in person and 16 days before an election if you do it online? Forget all that shit. You can actually register during that time, but it is called “grace period registration,” which is the same as regular registration, which you can also do when you vote because you can vote up to 40 days before the election.

So if you live in Chicago, even if you’re not registered to vote, at this very moment, you can go to one of hundreds of polls, register to vote and cast an actual ballot. To a reasonable person, that might sound like it’s Election Day in Illinois but you must excuse me while I switch to all caps.



Why are voting rules not uniform?

I must admit, it is easy to vote in some states. But some states make it hard as hell. Some states allow registration up to 30 days before an election, while others say 20, 15 or even zero days. In calculating the days, some states don’t count the day of the election. Some states count it. If the registration deadline falls on a weekend, some states allow an extra day. Some states allow two. Some states count the postmark for mail-in registration while others count the day the mail is received.


And that doesn’t even factor in that some people don’t even know if they need to register to vote or can legally vote. For instance, in California, you are automatically registered when you get your license, but in Mississippi, you can only register by mail or in person.

Felons can vote in some states, while in others they cannot. In Alabama, you can simply apply to have your voting rights reinstated. However, in Florida, a felon legally loses his or her civil rights (including the right to vote) until they fill out an application, get letters of recommendation and go before the Governor to beg for their rights restored.


And if you want to register online in Maine, Montana, Mississippi, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, South Dakota, Texas or Wyoming, apparently they don’t have internet in those places, so you can’t.

Also, you should know that none of what I said may be correct. Or all of what I said may be correct. There’s no way to tell because states change their election laws all the time and many secretaries of states acknowledge that their websites are out of date.


Washington D.C.’s social media person was very polite when they informed me that I had the incorrect link to their correct voter registration form, but if I told you where I got the link, I’d have to switch to all caps again and ... Ok, here’s where I got it:


Maybe this is why they made me take trigonometry in high school because this stuff is very complex. And despite the fact that the dates, times, links, laws, rules and requirements are all different and constantly changing, you should still cast your ballot on one of the 40 different Election Days.


Even though they don’t want you to vote, you should do it just to piss them off, to justify me doing all this damn work and to make your ancestors proud. And if you don’t ...

I’mma tell them I saw you eating tofu potato salad.

World-renowned wypipologist. Getter and doer of "it." Never reneged, never will. Last real negus alive.


Old white guy

It all goes back to the US f’ing Constitution and our glorious and wonderful founding fathers.

First, you have the republican’s favorite phrase, “state’s rights”, the supposed doctrine that states should have the power, not the federal government (see the book, “State’s Rights: The One True Reason for US Civil War”, by White Supremacist guy). Republicans want states to define what can and can’t be done in their states, and not have the federal government come in and tell them what to do (unless it involves lots of money for their campaigns - like approving a pipeline the state doesn’t want - or to prevent states from doing things they don’t like - such as saying states can’t make marijuana legal).

States get to define their own rules, within the rights and rules defined in the constitution and federal law. Nothing says a state needs to allow early voting, so if you determine that the people more likely to vote on weekends or early are democrats, because, you know, poor people can’t just take time off to vote, then you just cancel weekend voting (I seem to recall at least one state doing this) or just all early voting.

Second, again, we go to the US f’ing Constitution and our glorious and over-praised founding fathers. Again, republicans love these guys. Why? Because, when they created the constitution, there was no laws on who was allowed to vote. It was left up to the states. And most states left that to rich white guys (well, they would say “land owning men”). It took a long time for even non-land owners to get the right to vote, let alone black men, women, black women, etc.

And, not only that, but our glorious white supremacist founding fathers also felt, honestly, that you couldn’t and shouldn’t even trust the common people’s vote. I mean, those illiterate snipes are going to pick a good president? Sure, they didn’t care too much on the house of representatives side. But Senators were originally picked by the state legislatures, not the people (so even if the people picked a few bad legislatures, the good ones would pick good a good senator!). And the Electoral college was created with the direct thought process of “Well, these idiots out there could elect some guy who’s a complete idiot and moron who spends his day in the outhouse writing out short messages that are just nothing but a string of lies. We need a way to stop such a goombah from taking office. We’ll create the electoral college. These will be who the public is voting for, and then these people will vote for the president, and make sure some we don’t allow such a guy take power. Sure, it could be worse. We could have a woman be president! Or, a n——r!”Har-har-har-harumph! That’s a good Tom. BTW, diddle your slave girl lately?”

So, since the founding fathers and the constitution didn’t want people to vote, the republicans feel they should do their darnedest to do what the founders wanted.