Election 2012, Election Law

The Difference Between Voter Suppression And Voter Duress

I voted today. I hope you did too or will soon.

It wasn’t “easy.” I voted on the Upper East Side of New York, not exactly a contested district, but I still had to stand in line for an hour outside. Inside, there was more waiting and general confusion and misinformation. There was one non-partisan election lawyer at my location — I said, “It seems like a mad house in here.” He said, “You should see things downtown.”

It was the tenth or eleventh time I’ve voted at that polling place, and this was by far the hardest.

That said, if one looks at the scale of things that are difficult in life, getting into law school is a “1,” getting a job after law school is a “10,” and voting is, at most, a “4.” You can do it. It’s harder than it should be, but it’s not that hard. If you are reasonably intelligent and have a modicum of patience, you can figure it out.

Of course, if you are old or a dumb ass, things might not go so well….

We’re going to hear a lot about voter suppression this election, especially in swing states. But we need to be tuned into the difference between people who are being directly disenfranchised, versus people being actively annoyed. Sometimes voting is hard, but let’s not cry wolf about these things.

Voting in New York was a little more complicated this year because of Superstorm Sandy. Governor Andrew Cuomo said that New Yorkers could vote at any polling place — which is a great idea — but that caused a lot of confusion for voters and election workers. Somehow we live in 2012, but our ballots are not all available on computers, so the polling place only has the ballot for the districts they serve, meaning that if you vote away from your regular polling place (because your regular place is underwater), you’re only voting for the top of the ticket. Your down ballot votes won’t count if you’re voting away from home.

When I showed up to my polling place and the line was around the corner, I knew immediately that not everybody had gotten the message. There are just some things that no election lawyer can fix. Here are a few takeaways from my dance with democracy:

  • Dear God, it’s terrible getting old: You can see the palpable fear they have about looking confused, and yet they’re so easily confused. I know that in 30 years I’ll be saying, “In my day, you could vote electronically, in the snow. Not the virtu-ality implant blink system these kids are using.” I feel like there should be a special line for people over 65, and it should have a moving walkway and bathroom exits.
  • Patience Iago: It is amazing how much better everything works if people wait their turn, and listen.
  • Do it electronically, or do it paper ballot, but make up your freaking mind. At my place, you fill out your paper ballot with a pen (of which there are not enough to go around). Then you wait in another line to have your ballot scanned into a machine. But once scanned, the machine doesn’t give you a confirmation screen, a receipt confirming your vote, or even a stupid “I Voted” sticker. It’s like the worst of all worlds.
  • Election workers should at least have the educational level of their district, if not better. No offense to the people who give their time to make democracy happen, but if you ask them a question that is not on their list… I mean, if your question isn’t actually formed verbatim as they have it written down, these people are powerless to help you. Oh, if you say, “I don’t know my voting district,” they’ll point you to the dispersion table. If you say, “I don’t know if my voting district is 54 or 56, so can you just tell me where those two booths are?,” they stare blankly at you as if you just asked them to tell you exactly where all the electrons are.

The system is annoying. It’s inefficient. But at least at my little place on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, it was not corrupt. I think that’s an important point to make. The dumbest thing I saw was the one lady who kind of threw down her papers in a huff and said, “I’m just not going to vote then,” and stormed out. She was so petulant.

No matter your race or gender, at some point somebody fought, marched, and died so you could self-govern. Now, years later, we stand on the shoulders of other people’s sacrifice and have to take a few hours to exercise our inalienable right. We have to stand in line… sometimes more that one. We have to listen to sometimes conflicting instructions and follow somewhat arbitrary rules. Boo-freaking-hoo. If somebody is closing the doors on you, your vote is being suppressed. If somebody is telling you need ID when you don’t need ID, then your vote is being suppressed. (I didn’t bring ID to pick a fight, and when I told the election lady, she said, “That’s okay, honey” — I feel like I failed my Fight Club homework).

But if you have to stand in line and manage some confusion, suck it up and vote. You only have to do it once every four a year.

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