They say if you don’t vote you can’t complain. It’s not true. You can complain all you want, especially if you’re someone who has been blocked from voting. And in the U.S., we prevent a whole lot of people from voting. It’s supposed to be a super important right, but it’s often easier to buy a gun than to vote.
Around every election, especially presidential ones, we hear about voter roll purges on the news. Often, these purges happen in Republican-controlled states, and the people purged happen to live — oh gosh wouldn’t you know it — in heavily Democratic areas. When these people show up to vote, not knowing they’ve been thrown off the list, they can’t.
It’s a matter of record that Republicans don’t like it when people vote, especially when it’s brown and black people. They holler and cry about “voting integrity,” claiming that onerous voter ID laws are the only way to protect this cherished institution. And yet they also work behind the scenes to make it as hard as possible or at least stand in the way of making it easy.
Remember back in 2000? The hanging chad fiasco? Lawmakers declared that we needed better laws about voting. So in 2002, the Help America Vote Act passed. And it solved all of our problems, the end, goodnight.
Just kidding. HAVA established some standards for elections and created the Election Assistance Commission. It also rid of punch-card ballots. However, all the HAVAs in the world can’t help when one of the major parties is actively hostile toward voting rights (and welcomed interference from Russia into our elections to boot).
It also doesn’t help that Democrats often ignore this issue, taking for granted that a broad swath of their supporters has to jump through extra hoops to get to the polls. The more hoops, the less likely they will vote. And it’s not because they’re lazy. It’s because it’s tiresome.
If you have never found voting to be a challenge; if you’ve always been able to breeze in and out of your polling place with shiny new voting equipment, never worrying about whether or not you had the proper ID or that your name might be crossed off the list, using your reliable transportation while on your lunch break from your job that offers time off to vote, congratulations. Please note your privilege and keep it in mind when you judge other people for not voting.
And be skeptical of anyone who says that the problem with elections in this country is voter fraud because that’s not true. Trump may say that 3,000,000 “illegals” voted in the 2016 election, thereby denying him the popular vote, but there is absolutely no evidence of that. Not to mention the fact that it would have required a conspiracy among election officials on an epic scale. But then, of course, Trump is a big fan of conspiracies.
Voter suppression, however, is real. People who scheme to find ways to get fewer people to vote are anti-American and anti-Democratic. If a person wants to make it easy for you to get an assault rifle but wants to make it hard for you to cast a vote, then that person can stop claiming that they care about is the constitutional right. Also, they’re probably a Republican.
As I write this, it is the eve of the 2018 primary election. By the time you read it, people who want nothing more than to destroy the civil rights gains LGBTQ people have made (and those people will be mostly Republicans) will be real contenders for offices far and wide. Find out who is running where you live and for what office. And don’t wait until November. Find a candidate you support and involve yourself in their campaign. Voting alone is not enough.
If you don’t vote, go ahead and complain all you want. But chances are you’ll find a lot less to complain about if you are part of the process.
D’Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer, and comedian living in Michigan with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter @MamaDWitkowski.