When votes aren’t counted, the voter’s voice is silenced.
This is why organizations like Black Voters Matter are continuing a long-standing Southern tradition of doing the groundwork to increase Black voter registration. The organization started in 2016 in Selma, Ala., the stomping grounds for many civil rights giants like John Lewis. The group has since expanded its footprint and now has a presence in 12 states.
In the first episode of Black Magic Project’s monthly video series, BVM’s Alabama state coordinator, Arnee Odoms, educates citizens about how voter suppression looks like today, how voters can fight that suppression before and on election day and important deadlines to be aware of.
Along with Odom’s advice, here are some more tips to ensure your vote, and your friends’ votes, are counted during this election cycle:
Stay informed and fill out those registration forms
Ms. Rona has engineered the fiercest campaign of cancel culture we have ever seen. Your birthday party? Cancelled. Concerts? Cancelled. And it has muddied up the voting process as well. Thus, voting procedures are changing with a quickness.
For example, originally in Alabama you could only vote absentee under certain circumstances. But that changed in July when Secretary of State John Merrill issued an emergency rule allowing registered voters to vote absentee if they are concerned about going to the polls during the pandemic. This can be done by checking a box on the absentee ballot application that says, “I have a physical illness or infirmity which prevents my attendance at the polls.”
While all counties allow people to turn in absentee ballots by mailing them in or in person at the election office on weekdays, some counties, like Mobile, are allowing citizens to vote absentee on Saturdays.
So stay in touch with your local news sources, Vote.org (a nonpartisan resource keeping up with every state’s deadlines, dates, and rules) and your county’s election office’s website so you are aware of any changes to the voting process.
As you keep up with this information, make sure you register before Alabama’s Oct. 19 deadline.
Avoid the purge
Even if citizens are staying on top of the news and previously registered to vote, they are not exactly in the clear. Through purging, election officials remove voters’ names from the voter rolls if they have moved or passed away, sometimes erroneously.
The ACLU of Georgia and the Palast Investigative Fund called out the election officials in September for likely purging nearly 200,000 names from Georgia’s voter registration list after wrongfully accusing people of moving and not changing their address. It turns out those voters never moved at all, the report stated.
So, to avoid any upsetting surprises at the polls, it’s best to check if you are still registered at your current address before the deadline.
Get ahead by planning ahead
If you are voting on Nov. 3, take a couple of minutes to create a plan: Where is your polling location? How are you going to get there? At what time are you going to vote?
Odoms touches this, but it bears repeating: Don’t wait until Oct. 29 to apply for an absentee ballot. And submit your absentee ballot to your county’s election office about two or three weeks before the Nov. 2 deadline to hand-deliver or postmark your vote.
In cities with mass transit, voters can be delayed getting to polls by buses that run behind schedule, skip stops or impede access to polling places. It’s also common for polling locations to be closed or moved, forcing voters travel farther to cast their ballots.
Pay attention to bus routes and ensure that they do not change in efforts to suppress the vote of transportation insecure communities. Start your hunt for ride sharing apps, churches or local organizations providing free or discounted rides to the polls.
Go ahead and put the number for this nonpartisan election protection hotline in your contacts just I case you have problems on election day. It’s 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683)
Odoms said when it comes to voter suppression, the devil is in the details. Fighting voter suppression can work the same way: make sure you know all the details and plan.
Send what you learned through the grapevine
Social media can be a good way to spread what you learned about voting to your peers. But vital information can fall through the cracks of a digital divide.
So the best advertisement is word of mouth. Tell five people what you learned about voting and your plans for voting. Then ask your friends to tell five more people and then they tell five more people.
This grapevine will make sure everyone is in the know before they go and vote.
Check on your college friends
College students are growing the numbers in the voter rolls.
According to Tufts University’s Institute for Democracy & Higher Education, 40 percent of the students of the 10 million college students surveyed voted during the 2018 midterm elections. That’s about double the amount of college voters who casted a ballot during the 2014 midterm election.
But Alexus Cumbie, who is part of a team of University of Alabama graduate students increasing voter awareness on campus, says college students are vulnerable to voter suppression because they make up a large part of absentee ballots.
“For out–of–state students, if they choose to vote in state where their college is, they’ll more than likely be voting for the first time in a different state with different laws so it’s easy to be taken advantage of,” Cumbie said.
So check on your college friends. If you’re an out-of-state college student and you don’t plan to vote absentee in your home state, update your address so you can register to vote in your college town.
Check on your transgender friends, too
About 81,000 voting-eligible transgender people could face barriers in the eight states that have strict voter identification laws, according The Williams Institute. The majority of those states are in the South, including Alabama.
In fact, 70 percent of the 15,250 voter-eligible transgender people who live in Alabama don’t have an ID that reflects their correct name and/or gender identity. According to Leila Barazandeh, a community organizer with the Campaign for Southern Equality, said a lot of transgender voters are afraid to hand their ID to a poll worker.
“They get asked questions like, ‘Is this actually you?” and they get basically berated with inappropriate questions,” Barazandeh said. “It is really challenging to put yourself through the ordeal where you have to argue for your constitutional right to vote. Not only do you have to fight for that, but you also have to fight for your dignity and fight for your identity and that can be isolating because not everyone has a good support system to go with them to the polls.”
Before going to the polls, Barazandeh suggests transgender voters become knowledgeable of their rights with this voting guide by the National Campaign for Transgender Equality which also includes information for poll workers and election officials. They can also connect with local LGBTQ groups who have more voter information and assistance.
If voters face any problems on Election Day, call the election protection hotline listed above.
Trans voters should prepare ahead of time to defend their right to vote because it can make a difference in the future, Barazandeh said.
“You are not just fighting for yourself, you are fighting for entire communities when you stick up for what is right.” A little progress you might make in a rural area in the South really does have lasting ripple effects.”
Bring a friend (if you must). Be an ally
Mississippi activist Fannie Lou Hamer said: “Nobody’s free until everybody is free.”
People of color, students, the elderly, people with disabilities, and those with underlying medical conditions are more susceptible to voter suppression. But even if you are not part of these communities, you can be an ally.
Let vulnerable communities skip you in line if you have more time to wait. Some people with underlying health conditions have concerns about being in line because of COVID. Also keep in mind people who only have slim windows to vote during their lunch breaks.
That election protection hotline mentioned above is not just for you. If you see something, say something. Cumbie said allies can make sure elevators work, wheelchair ramps are not blocked, and that there are accommodations to ensure those with physical disabilities can vote safely at polling locations.
If you have difficulty reading the ballot due to a language barrier, you are allowed to bring someone with you that can interpret it. You can inform the poll workers of this and ask if they have an interpreter, but many polling sites do not provide one so bring a friend just in case.
Even if you are not a trans person, you still can learn what voter suppression looks like for them. Transgender people routinely see their identities challenged in places where ID and identity play a part, so the logistical challenges and the ease of getting flustered that comes with that can be compounded for trans folks. To make voting less intimidating, be a friend. You can help affirm their truth: That they belong, that they deserve to vote, and that they have a right to make their voice heard.