2008 Presidential Election, Race and Racism
Professor Vernellia Randall
Speaking Truth to Power!

Obama' Biggest Obstacle - Voter Suppression


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Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad
The Black Commentator


Is California the “new” Florida? That’s what many voters are asking after the nation’s largest state, California, was engaged in a massive voter dispute around “Decline To States" (DTS) voters (what the rest of the nation commonly refers to as Independent voters) in last week’s primary election. While the political pundits and delegate “bean counters” called the state for Clinton 20 minutes after the polls closed, it was learned that hundreds of thousands of California’s independent voters were not being counted.

California has over 700,000 “decline to state” voters – some 94,000 who voted in Los Angeles County alone, and were allowed to vote in the state’s Democratic Primary. It was disclosed at the end of Election Day that if DTS voters failed to punch a bubble at the top of their ballots, their vote wouldn’t count. Well, there was only one problem with that - most poll workers didn’t inform voters that it was necessary to do so. Invariably, most did not (including myself). Now they’re telling us our vote won’t count - not in 1868, or 1968 - but in 2008. I don’t think so… Funny how when change shows up so does oppression and repression. Or in this case, suppression.

As of this week, the issue still hasn’t been resolved and most feel this level of disfranchisement simply cannot be tolerated. Those denied votes might change the outcome of the election and delegate count that are apportioned to the candidates. Even if the delegate apportionment doesn’t change one iota, the point is, “here we go again” with the type of “poli-tricks” and trick-a-ration for which America has a long history. This is the type of game that frustrates the voting electorate into staying out of American politics.

Nobody, I repeat, NOBODY is bringing new voters to the election process like Barack Obama. While he will have to battle Hilary Clinton (and later what probably will be John McCain) in the campaign, he will have to battle voter suppression at the ballot box in every state. Yes, in the Southern states such as Florida, in the Northern states such as Ohio and even in (too) laid back California. Voter suppression is now Barack’s biggest opponent. Voter suppression is any form of activity that causes a willing voter not to be able to exercise their right to vote.

In California last week, we witnessed voter suppression take several forms. The DTS “bubble” glitch was just the most egregious act that could be measured. There were several other activities that were frequently reported but that can’t be measured in their totality, largely because we cannot ascertain how many people actually walked away in frustration. Just know that there were some.

The other major act of voter suppression was with new voters who were recently registered but whose names were not listed on precinct voter registration rolls. People were being told that it wasn’t their voting place, and that they had to find “their” polling place. Most of these new voters were young people who didn’t know that their right to vote could not be declined - nor did they know to ask for provisional ballots that allows contested voters to vote while their issue waits to be resolved at a later time. For provisional ballot voters, their vote counts now, although it will be counted last, but at least they were able to exercise their right to vote.

Some voting machines were malfunctioning and voters were told to come back when the machines were fixed, instead of being given paper ballots. How many young people do you think came back after having come once? There were some polling places that ran out of ballots. This is a common ploy that historically low voter turnout precincts encounter. It usually takes a couple hours to get new ballots over to the location. How many people have come and gone in that time period?

Some people were being told that they were Republicans (who couldn’t vote in the Democratic Primary) and weren’t given a ballot at all. This happened to my daughter, who voted in the last three elections as a democrat. It was not until she demanded a provisional ballot (which she didn’t know to do until she spoke with her sister, who also had to demand one, for a different reason) that she was able to vote. Ironically enough, some dozens of their friends (I had them call their friends who promised me they would vote) encountered the same difficulties. While I’ve been known to suspect a conspiracy or two in my time, I found it awfully coincidental that almost every young person I knew had encountered some form of voting resistance.

The real conspiracy here is whether “the powers that be” really want millions of new voters to fuel the reformation of the political process. I trust not. The change in America starts with the opening of the eyes of the masses of people in recognizing their equality rests in their ability to participate in the democracy that governs the land. The fewer who participate, the greater the number who can be exploited, excluded and forgotten. So the change we are witnessing is not just about a change in political ideology. It’s not just about a change in mindset of campaigning practices. It’s a change of the mindset of political efficacy, in terms of how the people see themselves making a difference in the political process, through engagement and participation. No one who is registered to vote can be denied the act of voting. In this instance, what you don’t know can hurt you.

Those who are joining the campaign to change America are not just helping Barack defeat Hilary and the Republicans. They are helping him defeat voter disfranchisement. That will be the biggest opponent Barack will have to defeat. He can turn out all the voters in the world, but if they never get to vote, who wins? The same ones that have always won when literacy tests, poll taxes, white primaries and other impediments block the paths of voting. Power will do anything to stay in power, including continuing to disenfranchise voters. Voter suppression is an active (not passive) political strategy that we can’t ignore, and must fix before the November elections. Only then will we overcome.

BlackCommentator.com Columnist Dr. Anthony Asadullah Samad is a national columnist, managing director of the Urban Issues Forum and author of the new book, Saving The Race: Empowerment Through Wisdom. His Website is AnthonySamad.com. Click here to contact Dr. Samad.


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