Fighting Voter Suppression
Amidst a Global Pandemic
Combatting Voter Suppression
During the throes of the 2020 presidential election, I became particularly interested and invested in voter suppression. I realized there was enough of a battle to be fought to enable people to vote for the candidate of their choice before tackling the even bigger battle of changing people’s minds. House-ridden by the Covid-19 pandemic, I spent my days phone and text banking - connecting with people all over the country to get out the vote and ensure that everyone was equipped with the proper information to make their vote count. It became apparent there was much confusion about voting rules and protocols in battleground states all over the country, and that I would be able to increase my impact if I could talk to folks face to face (with six feet distance between us, of course).
Taking on Pennsylvania
I spent an exhausting and enthralling several weeks in October traveling throughout Pennsylvania with my friend and fellow theatre artist Rachel Dart, getting out the vote. I was frequently amazed at how challenging it was for people to vote. Complicated registration instructions, language and geographic challenges, the trials of voting by mail in a pandemic - the odds were always stacked against the voter.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD
October 19th, 2020
Today was the last day for voter registration in PA and we were helping people with that as well as mail in, drop off and in person voting info. We met a woman who was not registered but wanted to be and simply didn’t have the tools to sort it out herself. We spent 40 minutes inputting her info to the BOE website as it continually crashed on us. We had to call two separate help lines and nearly had to drive to the county board of elections to pick up a form for her to fill out to then return ourselves. Luckily, the website finally worked snd now she is registered. That was just 1 of the 53 doors we knocked. For many it is very hard to do what ought to be a simple thing.
From Philadelphia to Allentown to Pottstown to Reading to Scranton to York to Easton and everywhere in between, I had the privilege of meeting a plethora of constituents who were eager to make their voices heard. Every door I knocked on, there awaited the potential to meet someone new with their own unique set of challenges and circumstances.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD
October 20th, 2020
We connected with a 37 year old ex-felon who was voting for the first time in his life because, although he had not been "in trouble," as he put it, for thirteen years, he had no reason to believe he could vote again. And then we helped his wife figure out that she was in fact registered in PA even though she thought she was only registered in NY, where they had moved from.
We met a woman who told us she used to canvass in her home country of Guyana.
We met a group of self-identified anarchists who wouldn't vote but wished us well and recommended a breakfast joint called Franklyn's that closed before we got there.
It was overwhelmingly apparent, if not altogether surprising, that of the more than 1,800 doors we knocked on, the insidiousness of voter suppression most affected black and brown families, immigrants, non-English speakers, and lower-income households.
NOTES FROM THE FIELD
November 1st, 2020
On one of the coldest days of our trip, in heavy fog and wind and rain, we had more people wish us well, thank us, offer us snacks or water, wish they could offer us some shelter, and warn us to be careful because the odds were high that we’d encounter a hostile member of the opposite party.
At every door we announce who we are volunteering for. But we are out here because everyone deserves the right to vote and, furthermore, they deserve that the information be straightforward and accessible. Everyone.
I’m proud of the work Rachel and I have done together. I feel good about it. It’s the moment when you sit back and feel good that you need to begin asking “What’s the next step?” This isn’t over. It won’t be over November 3rd. There are 300,000 mail-in ballots in PA that haven’t been returned yet. Ballots are being counted until November 6th. It will be our job to ensure that every single vote gets counted.
We returned home with (ultimately) the election results we were looking for. The outcome of the election felt intrinsically connected to the legislation necessary to get us through the pandemic and back to our careers in the theatre. While we met our goal, but the problem was far from fixed. It was not even temporarily fixed. When you see this kind of disenfranchisement up close, it becomes less about securing a majority than about guaranteeing that every American can engage civically with confidence and ease.
And Yet the Work Continues
About a month later Rachel and I packed ourselves back in the car
and drove from New York City down to Marietta, Georgia, where we would knock doors on behalf of the democratic senate candidates Rev. Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in the runoff election. We knocked on nearly 3,000 doors across Cobb County before transitioning to ballot cure canvassing in the southern part of the state on New Year’s Eve.
Eighteen states currently allow constituents to fix or “cure” their mail-in-ballots if a problem such as a missing signature is identified. It is a simple enough process for voters with internet, computers or smart-phones, but as we discovered, there are many that do not have these tools. For them, the process is much more of a challenge - not to mention for folks who are elderly, have mobility issues, do not speak English, or are simply concerned about the pandemic.
The machinations of voter suppression currently favor rejecting ballots over taking the time to make sure that they get counted, either through voter education or facilitating a smooth ballot cure process. For a week and a half we zig-zagged from Albany to Moultrie to Leesburg to Colquitt, knocking doors and gathering the materials necessary to count the most vulnerable votes from the most disenfranchised people.
Voting is a fundamental American right. It is the simplest and most direct way afforded to us to exercise civic participation. I was proud to fight the good fight in the fall and winter of 2020/2021 for the election outcomes I believed our country needed, but it will take a herculean effort to fight the root problem - a sophisticated and multi-pronged endeavor to suppress votes. I am eager to continue this work today, tomorrow, and in every election cycle to come.