Color Us Connected: Fighting voter suppression | #vacation | #seniors | #elderly
This column appears every other week in Foster’s Daily Democrat and the Tuskegee News in Alabama. This week, Guy Trammell, an African American man from Tuskegee, and Amy Miller, a white woman from South Berwick, Maine, write about voter laws and suppression.
By Guy Trammell Jr.
While in grade school, I remember sneaking quiet bites of sugary cereal in the back seat while returning at night from Roses in Auburn’s Midway Plaza, about 30 minutes from home. My parents, along with the Black families of the Village of Greenwood and Tuskegee, had decided to shop only in Greenwood and other nearby towns instead of at the white-owned businesses in Tuskegee after Mayor Philip Lightfoot’s gerrymander; it redrew the town’s boundaries to exclude all but a handful of the 5,000 Black voters, while including all of the 1,000 white voters.
Organizing with Dr. Charles G. Gomillion and the Tuskegee Civic Association, they decided that if Black votes weren’t wanted, then Black dollars weren’t wanted either. The famous Montgomery Bus Boycott led by Rosa Parks lasted about a year. The Tuskegee boycott lasted more than four years. After the U.S. Supreme Court in 1960 ruled the Tuskegee gerrymander invalid, voters across the state of Alabama decided our Macon County should be abolished rather than allowing Tuskegee Blacks to vote unobstructed. We remain the only Alabama county set for abolition.
In the 2020 national election, the country saw the largest voter participation in history. There were many charges of voter fraud but the judicial system found no basis for them. Given these facts, it is difficult to find the logic for action by state legislators across the country who have, as of March 24, 2021, introduced 361 bills with restrictive provisions for voters in 47 states, including Alabama.
Voter suppression is not at all new to Alabama, and right now, in the midst of a global health pandemic, our State Legislature, instead of prioritizing the devastation of health, safety, education and the economy, has introduced a bevy of bills to further suppress Alabama voters. The following are examples now pending approval. Senate Bill 235 and House Bill 285 both prohibit curbside voting, a direct obstacle for voters with disabilities and the many seniors who have limited mobility. Voting from a vehicle is less taxing on those voters as well as on the election official having to assist them from the vehicle into the polling place. Curbside voting also could help in rural districts that have not met the disabled accessibility standards for public facilities, and it would eliminate the hazard to voters with health conditions who need to avoid large crowds.
House Bill 351 prohibits the governor from changing election procedures due to a state of emergency. The logic against this bill is in full display during the current global pandemic. Logic tells us that in an emergency, procedures must change to accommodate that emergency. House Bill 399 is similar to House Bill 351; it prohibits the secretary of state, in a state of emergency, from waiving absentee ballot requirements. This includes the requirement of providing a copy of your photo ID and having your ballot witnessed or notarized. Finding a copy machine or a notary in a rural area during a pandemic can be problematic for most people.
The one question I have regarding all these bills and others not listed here: Where is the data to support them? I see no applicable logic for them, unless the purpose is to reduce voter turnout.
By Amy Miller
I stayed home during the pandemic. My job became 100% remote and I didn’t lose any income. As a result, I was better able to avoid exposing myself to COVID-19.
So what does this have to do with voting? A lot.
When it came time to vote in November, I chose to go in person. I did not have to ask permission from my boss, take a vacation day or file for an absentee ballot. Because I live in a small town, the lines were short and the whole process took less than 10 minutes. Because I live in a state with some of the nation’s most flexible voting laws, many people were able to vote ahead, which helped with both lines and turnout.
My story is very different from many other Americans, though. In some states, it is harder to vote ahead, to find a drop box, or to get an absentee ballot. In many places, people wait on line for hours to vote and have to take off time from work to do so.
More than a year ago, a few of us from both Tuskegee and South Berwick decided to interview people in each of our towns about whether they had ever faced an obstacle to voting. We guessed that Black folks in Tuskegee would have some different stories than white folks in South Berwick.
We never predicted, though, how powerfully different these stories would be, especially when we talked to the older citizens who had the longer view. From Tuskegee, we heard about poll taxes and being asked to count jelly beans in a jar. We heard about people being turned away from the polls for no reason and being threatened when they tried to register other voters. Compiled in a book called “Together We Vote,” these interviews told a shameful story of the ways Black citizens of the United States have in the past been discouraged, sometimes prevented, from voting.
Today, more than 350 pieces of legislation introduced in 47 states would restrict citizen access to voting, according to the Washington Post. Among the most insidious of the changes being considered are bills that would take power from local election officials to conduct their own elections. Georgia’s controversial new law gives the State Election Board the authority to intervene in county election offices and to remove and replace local election officials. This means a white state government can take power away from a majority Black county. This centralization of election powers means that whatever party is in charge at the state level can control the local level as well.
When we started the Together We Vote project, I imagined we were creating a kind of oral history book, a book that looked back at how hard many Americans have had to fight to get equal access to the democratic process.
Now, as one state after another attempts to pass laws that make it more complicated to vote, I see that this is a fight that continues today.
Guy and Amy can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org