Photo credit: Photo by Annie Bolin on Unsplash.
When this article is published, there will be 43 days left until Election Day.
Many people are calling this year’s presidential election “the most important election in U.S. history,” including the President himself. Whether or not that’s true, it’s undoubtedly an important election. Between climate change, racial injustice and a global pandemic, there’s certainly a lot at stake. I’m not going to tell you who to vote for, but I will tell you to vote.
However, this can oftentimes be easier said than done. The American Civil Liberties Union recognizes several means of voter suppression, disenfranchising millions of citizens each year. This includes voter ID laws, voter purges and felony disenfranchisement.
According to the ACLU, 36 states have identification requirements at the polls, seven of which “have strict photo ID laws, under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot — no exceptions.” This is problematic because over 21 million U.S. citizens do not own a government-issued state ID. This is often because getting an ID is expensive (around $30 in Pennsylvania, an expense that recurs every four years for renewal). Even in states where IDs are free, merely obtaining the required documents can be costly.
Furthermore, voter purges are intended to remove registrants who have moved, died or otherwise become ineligible to vote. However, states can also use them “as a method of mass disenfranchisement, purging eligible voters from rolls for illegitimate reasons or based on inaccurate data, and often without adequate notice to voters,” as per the ACLU. The consequences of these purges can be devastating — the Brennan Center for Justice reports that nearly 16 million registered voters were removed from the rolls between 2014 and 2016. Additionally, jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination were found to have higher purge rates. The Brennan Center attributes to the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision to overturn federal preclearance, an element of the Voting Rights Act designed to keep jurisdictions accountable for racial discrimination.
In addition, felony disenfranchisement is barring convicted felons from being able to vote. There are no federal laws that designate whether or not a felon can vote. It varies by state: some ban voting while incarcerated, some ban voting while on parole and others don’t ban it at all. This disproportionately affects Black people, seeing as they are incarcerated at over five times the rate of their white counterparts, as per the NAACP.
Concerns about voter suppression are exacerbated this election season due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Federal and local governments are making significant changes to the voting process this year, and not all of them are beneficial to voters. On the national level, President Donald Trump has recently appointed a new Postmaster General: Louis DeJoy, who, incidentally, has donated over $1.2 million to Trump’s campaign. This is a critical position for this upcoming election, considering the historic number of mail-in ballots that will be cast this November. DeJoy, however, has “recently mandated changes in postal operations, designed to cut back on overtime by postal workers, even if it means that some mail will not be delivered for another day,” according to the New Yorker. This is a devastating decision since the majority of states do not accept ballots that arrive after Election Day (Pennsylvania, for its part, decided this week that it will accept ballots up to three days after the election).
Local governments are instituting changes as well. I recently discovered that my home of Delaware County has decided to reduce the number of available polling places for the upcoming election. Their website explains that Senate Bill 42, which postponed the 2020 primary election, allows counties to “temporarily consolidate polling places without court approval.” Because of this, Delaware County decided to limit the amount of polling places for the primary, a reduction that continues into the general election. My hometown, for instance, has gone from 18 polling places to only five. Though this decision was intended to protect poll workers, it could have a negative effect on voter turnout. Fewer polling places means longer lines, and many people just simply do not have the time to wait. In addition, the changes have not been well-announced, so it’s likely that many people will not find out about it until they arrive at their usual polling place — far too late to apply for a mail-in ballot.
Similarly, Chester County also limited the number of polling places for the primary election. It is unclear whether they intend to keep the reduced polling places for the general election. The county website reads: “Polling locations will be finalized soon. When finalized, the polling locations will be listed on our Election Portal. They will also be announced on social media.” As of Friday, Sept. 18, there is no sign of polling locations on the Election Portal website, nor on the county’s Twitter or Facebook pages.
All that being said, it is imperative that people make every effort to vote in this year’s election. For Pennsylvanians, the PA Voter Services website is a lifeline. To register to vote, click here. You must register by Oct. 19 to be eligible to vote in the November election. If you are already registered, I encourage you to check your voter registration here to ensure that everything is in order. To find your local polling place, click here. Finally, to register for an absentee or mail-in ballot, click here. Your application must be received by Oct. 27 to receive a ballot. Send in your ballot as soon as possible to ensure that it is received by the deadline. You can either send in your ballot by mail or drop it off to your county elections office.
Your voice matters. Your vote matters. Do everything in your power to make sure it is counted.
Shannon Montgomery is a fourth-year English major with minors in Creative Writing and Women’s & Gender Studies. SM916394@wcupa.edu