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OPINION

Voter suppression is democracy bleeding out

Trump and the GOP aren’t content with making it harder to vote. They want it to be impossible.

People sit in line for early voting at the George Pierce Park Community Center in Suwanee, Ga., Monday, Oct. 12. Voters in Atlanta and surrounding towns waited up to 10 hours to vote, according to The Washington Post.
People sit in line for early voting at the George Pierce Park Community Center in Suwanee, Ga., Monday, Oct. 12. Voters in Atlanta and surrounding towns waited up to 10 hours to vote, according to The Washington Post.Nicole Craine/NYT

On Georgia’s first day of early voting, thousands waited for hours to cast their ballots. In Chicago this month, Beatrice Lumpkin, a 102-year-old retired teacher, wore a full suit of personal protective equipment to walk to a mailbox to send her mail-in ballot. For several hours Tuesday, Virginia’s online voter registration portal was down after an electronic fiber cable was mysteriously cut — on the final day to register for next month’s election.

Voting is a constitutional right. Republicans have turned it into an endurance sport.

Don’t say the system is broken. It’s operating exactly as planned. The Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in 2013 and, ever since, Republicans have done all they can do to lie, steal, and cheat their way to victory. If our vote didn’t matter, they wouldn’t fight so hard to take it away.

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Racism determines who’s most likely to have voting difficulties. People of color are seven times more likely than white voters to wait longer than an hour to vote, according to a 2017 study by Stephen Pettigrew, data sciences director at the University of Pennsylvania’s Program on Opinion Research and Election Studies. From staffing to technology, predominantly white voting precincts generally receive more and better resources.

If only President Trump, his administration, and fellow GOP legislators put as much effort into slowing the spread of COVID-19 as they spend attacking the right to vote, there would be far fewer infections and deaths, and voting would be less anxiety-inducing in a year with an expected record turnout.

Between mail-in ballots and early voting, turnout so far has been unprecedented. According to the United States Elections Project, which compiles early-voting data, more than 4 million people have already cast their ballots. At this point four years ago, about 75,000 people voted early. In Georgia alone, more than 125,000 people voted Monday, though some waited as long as 10 hours or endured technical glitches at polling places.

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Even in the midst of an unrelenting pandemic, people seem determined to be heard while the Trump administration and his Republican henchmen in various states are just as determined to silence them. In an act of voter intimidation straight out of the Jim Crow era, Trump is encouraging his supporters to act as poll watchers on Election Day. The Trump campaign has ominously dubbed them “Trump’s army.”

In California, the state Republican party has been ordered to remove its unauthorized, unofficial ballot drop boxes in several counties. On Monday, a federal appeals court ruled that Governor Greg Abbott of Texas can limit ballot drop-off locations to one per county. (All three judges on the Appeals Court for the Fifth Circuit were appointed by Trump.) In Harris County, there were 12 drop-off sites; now there’s one for more than 2.4 million voters.

Fresh off his fourth NBA championship, LeBron James and his More Than a Vote teamed up with Lyft, the ride-share company, to block GOP voter suppression and offer free rides of up to $15 to ballot drop-off locations in Harris County, which includes Houston. King James is an MVP, on and off the court.

And we all know about Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s willingness to deprive people of getting their prescriptions or benefit checks just so he can render the Postal Service incapable of handling tens of millions of mail-in ballots.

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Trump isn’t trying to make it harder to vote; he wants it to be impossible. He’s making old-school suppression tactics like jellybean counting and literacy tests seem subtle by comparison.

Voter suppression has always undermined democracy, but when it was only happening to Black people, the rest of America didn’t much care. Black people are still disproportionately affected, but now many others are fretting about whether their vote will be counted. Voter suppression is Trump’s campaign strategy.

In a recent Glamour magazine interview, Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, said, “As much as it pains me to see long lines of people wearing masks, standing on their feet for hours, risking their lives to cast a vote, these images are a snapshot of the nobility of Black people.”

She’s right, of course. Being Black in America requires a bottomless well of nobility, yet it has brought us no closer to full recognition of our citizenship. News stories about voters standing in lines like labyrinths or taking extreme measures to cast their ballot aren’t testaments to American perseverance. It’s an active crime scene of constitutional theft.

Voter suppression is too polite a term for what we are witnessing. This is our democracy bleeding out.


Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.