With the American presidential election just weeks away, the importance—and the question—of voting is heavy on our minds. In the past year, the leadership of one of the most powerful and influential countries in the world has broken down. President Trump was briefed on the danger of the Corona virus in late January, and did nothing to protect the American people except imposing travel restrictions on China; and this was after he disbanded the pandemic response team set in place for exactly these kinds of outbreaks. Over 200,000 Americans have died from the virus, and many of those deaths could have been avoided if the Trump administration was more proactive, and less concerned for the economy.
Of course, money is Trump’s main concern, as can be seen from his tax returns, which show that he only paid $750 in 2016 and 2017 (BBC News). And when the whole country—and the whole world—came out to protest police violence and systemic racism which pervades within the US, and results in the loss of Black lives, Trump’s response was to deploy the National Guard against his own citizens. In the recent presidential debates, he was also asked to denounce white supremacy, but deflected, and only said “stand back and stand by” (Rev). Stand by means to wait, not to stop. He refused to denounce white supremacy, and that should be the only evidence you need that Trump is a racist.
The only way to oust a corrupt, racist leader, who toes the line of fascism, is to vote him out. America is a democracy, or at least it’s supposed to be. The electoral college, which is the voting system used in the US, only exists because its founders knew that if popular vote was employed, the north would outweigh the south by population. At that time in the late 18th century, there were moves in the north for the abolition of slavery, which the southern (and northern) slave-owners of course wanted to avoid. During this time, the more enslaved people that resided in slave states, the more electoral votes they received (Time). Each state has a certain number of electoral votes based on the number of representatives that state has, which is determined by population. The main argument in defense of the electoral college now is that bigger states with densely populated cities would have more influence on the election than smaller, less populous (and more rural) states if we switched to popular vote. This is exactly right–that’s what popular vote means. Arguing this means admitting to the fact that republican voters are in the minority, and that “one does not believe in democracy” (Intelligencer). It was never about land—land doesn’t vote. The electoral college is one of the biggest things still standing in the way of a true democracy in America.
That being said, if the electoral college truly had enough power to eliminate what little democracy America has, then what would be the point of making voting so difficult, with such tactics as needing proper ID, waiting in long lines, and several states not having mail-in voting unless someone specifically requests it (to name a few)? There is concrete evidence that there is racial discrimination at the voting polls in the US. In a study it was found that 10% of black voters in 2016 reported being told that they weren’t listed on voter rolls—even though they were. Only 5% of white voters said the same. This means that in America, Black voters were twice as likely to be turned away at the polls or otherwise face barriers in their voting process (Atlantic).
Another barrier to voting is lacking proper ID. If someone who is attempting to vote doesn’t have a driver’s license, and the name on that license doesn’t perfectly match the name on the ballot, they could be turned away at the polls. In Wisconsin in 2016, several people lacking proper ID were turned away and couldn’t vote. If the majority of those voters had voted for Hillary Clinton, she would have taken the electoral votes for that state and turned the tide of the election. And unsurprisingly, the majority of these people came from predominantly Black neighborhoods, suggesting clear racial discrimination (Atlantic). There are many voices on the far left which make the argument that because of the electoral college and the illogical, racist reasoning behind it—and the fact that the candidate selected by the people doesn’t always win—voting is all but useless. But, if voting doesn’t matter, and regardless of what we do or who we vote for, a corrupt leader will be elected, then why do these types of voter suppression exist? The fact is, there wouldn’t be voter suppression if voting didn’t have an impact.
There are also many on the radical left which believe that in order to destroy established systems—such as the police, which emerged in direct response to the abolition of slavery, and evolved from a runaway slave patrol—the best course of action is not voting. For many, the idea prevails that voting doesn’t work. We voted for Hillary in 2016, and she got 3 million more votes than Trump. She didn’t win. When we do vote for democrats and they win, author and social activist Angela Davis points out that they still “remain connected to corporate capitalism” (Democracy Now).
As early voting has begun and people are making their way to the polls, these barriers still stand in the way of a proper democracy. In Atlanta, Georgia, there were extremely long lines to get to the polls; some early voters had to wait up to 10 hours. I am from Washington State, which has voting by mail—an easier, faster, and more efficient way of voting that requires no one to stand in line. All I have to do is receive my ballot in the mail, vote, sign, and toss it into the mailbox. Easy, right? In light of COVID-19, several people have also requested mail in ballots in order to vote more safely. However, in states where vote-by-mail isn’t the norm, seemingly inconsequential issues and rules can cause ballots not to be counted. In North Carolina, absentee ballots require a witness signature, and if there is a missing or mismatched signature, address, or some other discrepancy with the information on the ballot, it could be labeled as ‘cure’–meaning that it needs to be sent back to the voter and fixed. Forty percent of the ‘pending cure’ ballots in North Carolina belong to Black voters. Also, some states have a system wherein voters are notified that their ballot is ‘cure’ and others do not–in the latter case, voters must check in with officials. This makes it even harder and more stressful for mail-in voters to vote successfully in these states (CNN).
So, voter suppression can determine the outcome of an election, even so far as to undermine the electoral college system and take electoral votes away from the candidate who deserves them. And many have argued that since voter suppression and the electoral college seem to team up to take away our democracy, what’s the point of voting? While this hopelessness is understandable, it is ultimately shortsighted. Many leftists have vowed not to vote in the upcoming election, while others say they will write in Bernie Sanders’ name; or, that they’ll vote for a third party candidate, such as Libertarian nominee Jo Jorgensen. Current polls put Jorgensen at 2% of the vote nationally. In the past, third party candidates have done nothing but pull votes away from the main 2 nominees. In 2016, third party voters for Jill Stein changed the entire outcome of the election: “Stein received more votes in Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania than the margin of Clinton’s loss in each of those states. In other words, if all of the Stein voters had instead voted for Clinton, then Clinton would have won those three states and would have been elected president” (CNN). This still operates under the electoral college system, which is flawed, with a problematic history. Regardless, Hillary won the popular vote in 2016, so under a true democracy, she should have won.
What about now? This election could easily be a repeat of 2016, with the combination of voter suppression, third party voters, and those who refuse to vote out of complacency, or cynicism. Trump’s presidency has felt like four years in a dystopian novel—or rather, the events of the last four years have revealed how dystopian America already was. If young voters decide to forego their vote because progressive leftist Bernie didn’t make the ticket—or worse, if they vote third party and essentially throw away their vote (or pull votes away from Biden, necessarily giving more votes to Trump)—then we will be repeating history. I wasn’t able to vote in 2016, but now that I am able to, as are many of my peers, it is up to us to step up to the plate and vote a fascist out of office. A vote for anyone except Biden is a vote for Trump— evidence from both 2016 and now back that up.
The good news is that the complacency of 2016 seems to be waning in 2020. An unprecedented number of people have voted so far in the election—far more than in recent years (The Guardian). This signals that people are waking up to the reality of our potential power as citizens. Specifically, more young voters have registered in high numbers as well. YouTube vlogger David Dobrik created a contest to win a Tesla where, in order to enter, his followers had to register to vote via HeadCount.org. When the contest was over, 120,000 people had registered to vote through HeadCount, most of whom were young voters, due to David’s audience (Forbes). During and following the Black Lives Matter demonstrations all over the country, voter registration, especially in young voters, had a dramatic increase as well (New Yorker). This massive turnout and protest should have put the necessary pressure on the president to acknowledge the systemic racism inherent in the American justice system, and make concrete steps to change it (such as defunding the police, and reallocating the money to education and social services). Angela Davis points out that “the electoral arena is not the best place for the expression of radical politics. But if we want to continue this work, we certainly need a person in office who will be more amenable to our mass pressure.” In this context, Biden is that more amenable person. Biden may not be the leftist we need to see real change, but he’s certainly not the person who would refuse to denounce white supremacy, and call right-wing protestors who tout the confederate flag (a symbol of slavery) ‘very fine people.’ If elected, Biden would respond to mass pressures and mass protests. And besides, he’s the only alternative.
Feminist writer Rebecca Solnit wrote that “voting is a chess move, not a valentine.” Just because Biden isn’t our first choice—he is far too moderate for the kind of change we need to see, and as the vice presidential debates reminded us, he loves fracking—doesn’t mean those eligible to vote should stubbornly refuse to do so. Not voting means allowing more votes to go to Trump, and voting third party would be an impractical waste. I know people have been saying this a lot, but it’s true—your vote matters. It counts.
The only way to oust a corrupt, racist leader, who toes the line of fascism, is to vote him out.