Voting is the most basic American civil right, but stopping there isn't enough to create effective change. (Image via Granda Morin)
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Voting is the most basic American civil right, but stopping there isn't enough to create effective change. (Image via Granda Morin)

Twitter posts don’t make you a political activist.

Let’s vote. 

No, seriously, everyone who can vote should vote, because it’s vital for citizens to use one of their key democratic freedoms. The midterm elections are coming up and I’m sure you’ve seen the Twitter posts from friends and celebrities alike, the magazine articles, the Instagram stories and more. You’ve probably come across a post or two that said something like “Check out this really cool story!” and it’s a link to a voter registration website.

I personally saw a tweet with over 50,000 retweets that said “Wow I can’t believe this is why Ariana Grande and Pete Davidson split up.”

The tweet was accompanied by a picture of the two and a link that actually led to a voter registration website as well. Even Elle Magazine jumped on the bandwagon by posting a false Twitter story claiming to link an article about Kim Kardashian and Kanye West breaking up, but instead linked a voter registration site. Essentially, telling, and even tricking, people to register and vote has become a trend, particularly within younger or more liberal crowds.

But it’s not enough. When I see privileged people posting on social media about how everyone should “just vote” to help their fellow man and it’s “stupid” to not do so, I remember.  I remember the entitled things they’ve said, or the racist comment they made in the past. I remember the huge mess they left in the cafe, expecting one of the workers to clean up after them. I remember how they have done almost nothing to help those with fewer privileges, or addressing their own privilege, other than posting “go vote.”

I won’t say I don’t have privileges because I do. I can afford to attend college, I don’t work full-time and I feel fairly secure in my day-to-day life. There are also privileges I don’t have; notably I’ve experienced both racism and sexism in my life as a black, mixed woman.

However, telling people to vote or doing so yourself, shouldn’t be your end-all, be-all, regardless of its newfound popularity. Voting should not be used to absolve any feelings of obligation or even guilt people have to help those who are less fortunate. It does not make one a political activist.

I do believe increasing the number of people who vote in America is a very important step in lessening the political apathy many feel. The United States has a lower voter turnout rate than many Western countries, with 60 percent of the voting-eligible population (VEP) voting in the 2016 presidential election cycle, and only 36 percent in the 2014 midterm elections.

But being a politically and socially conscious individual does not mean just taking the time to vote once or even a few times a year. People must work every day to critically look at themselves and their own privilege, myself included, rather than just patting themselves on the back for doing the bare minimum in voting and then going back to their regular lives oblivious to the world around them.

I also do not think people occupying places of high privilege should blindly look down on or shame people who do not vote. It has been shown social pressure can be effective in getting people to vote. Nevertheless, there are many reasons why some may be unable to vote.

According to Ari Berman of The New York Times, since 2010, 24 states controlled by the Republican party have instituted new voting restrictions “such as tougher voter ID laws, cutbacks to early voting and barriers to registration.” Republicans leaders have claimed this has been done to fight against voter fraud, although it has been shown many times fraud is rarely occurs.

A lot of these states in question also have elections that could be a close race between Democrats and Republicans. Whatever the intent, these Republican-driven initiatives, such as strict voter ID laws, shift outcomes in favor of the right. Because voter ID laws disproportionately affect Democratic constituencies, including younger citizens and people of color, this aids Republicans in maintaining power in traditionally red states by lowering the voter turnout in those groups.

A study done by UC San Diego found “strict photo identification laws have a differentially negative impact on the turnout of Hispanics, Blacks and mixed-race Americans in primaries and general elections.” Researchers discovered these voter restriction laws doubled the gap between white and Latino turnout in general elections and almost doubled the black-white gap in the primaries. The models that reached this conclusion took into account the turnout surge among minorities during Barack Obama’s candidacy, so, it is possible the cumulative voter suppression effects from strict voter ID laws could be even more severe. It can be difficult and expensive to obtain accepted forms of photo ID. The loss of government records, incorrect records and of course the cost and time required, pose barriers that disproportionately affect black, Latinx, low-income and elderly citizens,

Recently, Georgia secretary of state and current Republican nominee for governor Brian Kemp stalled over 50,000 voter registration applications that disproportionately represent black voters due to alleged issues with the registration information. Kemp is running against Democratic nominee Stacey Abrams, who, if elected, would be Georgia’s first black female governor. People have speculated that the stalling of the applications was voter suppression. Former President Jimmy Carter even called for Kemp’s resignation over the alleged suppression.

Voter ID laws have also negatively affected Native American voters. On Oct. 10, the Supreme Court upheld a voter ID law in North Dakota after the Native American Rights Fund sued the state in 2016. The law requires voters to bring ID when voting that shows “current residential street address, or other supplemental documentation that provides proof of such an address.” This will disenfranchise around 5,000 Native Americans, who tend to vote Democratic, as many live on reservations in more rural areas and do not have street addresses. The U.S. Postal service does not deliver residential mail to remote areas, so a lot of North Dakota’s Native American tribes use mailing addresses such as P.O. boxes on their IDs. Supplemental documentation, including a bank statement or utility bill, can also be difficult to obtain due to poverty, which has higher rates in the Native American community than the country on a whole.

To give some clarity on how great an effect these 5,000 Native American votes could have in North Dakota, Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp, who is running for reelection, won the 2012 Senate election by 3,000 votes. Many of these came from an 80 percent support rate by two counties with sizable Native American reservations.

Up to 78,000 voting-eligible transgender people may also be disenfranchised by strict voter I.D. laws in Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin as found by the Williams Institute in August 2018. In these eight states, voters must show government-issued photo ID. It is the poll workers’ decision to decide “whether a voter’s identification accurately identifies the voter and matches the information listed in the voter registration rolls.” It can be very expensive to legally change one’s gender on their ID, and the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey “found that only 11 percent of the nearly 28,000 survey respondents reported that all of their IDs and records listed both their preferred name and gender” and “more than two-thirds (68 percent) of respondents said they did not have a single piece of identification reflective of both their preferred name and gender.”

Voter ID laws are just some of the reasons why people are unable to vote. Maybe someone cannot afford to miss work, as election days are not national holidays. Maybe they have to watch their siblings and cannot make it to the polling place. Maybe they have health conditions that prevent them from voting, mental health issues or live in a place where there is voter intimidation.

Instead of indiscriminately chastising those who do not vote so as to praise yourself for you  political “action,” people should reflect on why others may not be able to vote and work to address those issues. Don’t forget that a lot of the people you brag to be voting for may also be those you are inadvertently shaming for not voting.

Please, please, please vote if you are able to, but be conscious that everyone else may be unable to, and changing the country for the better requires more than voting. There many other ways to get involved, from protests to grassroots campaigns for change to consistently examining your own privileges.

Vote if you can, but don’t stop there.


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