97,000 votes in Andrew Gillum’s race went to 4 other candidates that Floridians knew wouldn’t win. These largely moral high ground votes were 20,000 more than he needed to win.
In Georgia, Stacey Abrams has yet to concede, but if she does she will have lost by roughly 75,000 votes. In that race third party voting only made up half the difference – 36,000 – but this is in a state that suppressed well over a million votes through the direct action of her opponent, Brian Kemp. Again: the person she was running against literally had the power to make over a million votes disappear, and then proceeded to do so.
It’s too early to know yesterday’s turnout numbers (they’re record-breaking in some quarters) but midterms historically have low voter turnout. In 2014 only 36% of eligible voters did so. In 2002, 2006 and 2010 that number was as high as a “whopping” 40%. This in a country in which most states offer early voting. No lines, no driving to the polls, no time off work. Just a free mail drop. Who knows: maybe we got up to 41% this time around. The temptation in light of such numbers is to blame people who can vote but choose not to. That’s not entirely unfair in most cases, but there is a larger problem than people who opt not to vote: the bald and unrelenting suppression of millions of peoples’ right to vote.
Voter suppression has been happening ever since ballots were created. It’s only making the news now because the results of unprecedented levels of voter suppression are beginning to affect what white Americans want. It’s becoming the new heroin crisis: no one talks about it until the right victims start suffering.
Surprising no one, the consolation that isn’t really a consolation for many Americans today is how tight the races were. Listen: “Look how close we are” is something black people are used to hearing. We always have our needs shuffled down the political priority list or pushed off the table altogether after being deemed unwinnable drag at a “crucial” time. Black people’s issues are essentially third party issues that it’s okay to date but never bring home to mom and dad. Despite that, most of the black people who can vote – who are not suppressed or otherwise made ineligible to vote – show up every time. The waste of time isn’t in the voting; the waste of time is in what politicians do with the time we give them and we should put more of that blame where it belongs.
What black people keep trying to tell the rest of America with our votes and our marches and our mouths is that we have always lived in the crucial time zone. Our issues are crucial issues. When you don’t resolve our issues, they become your issues. Today’s black issue that suddenly became America’s issue is voter suppression.
It is ironic to watch the news these days as a black person and see voter suppression mentioned regularly. I’m sure now that the midterms are over the bandwidth committed to the issue will go away for a couple of years, while suppression efforts will continue unabated.
I don’t care how bad you think things are: America apparently isn’t in the toilet enough that it compels people eligible to vote to register, show up or otherwise participate in elections in truly representative numbers. I suppose we’re waiting for something worse than the Orwellian measures we’ve already being subjected to. The problem, of course, is that by the time things get that bad you will likely no longer possess the right to vote. If I sound dramatic just remember that voter suppression has already made that a reality for millions of people. Millions of people with jobs, homes and no prison record were shut out of voting yesterday. What do you think Orwellian means?
No small amount of noise is being made of the Democrats assuming control of the House in January, and what they will do with such power. A lot of the focus is on the possibility of Russian probe launches and that old 2016 chestnut, Trump’s tax returns. My suggestion is that they take Abrams’ lead: focus on voter suppression. I want them to spend my tax dollars and their ribbon-cutting time on finding ways to get people eligible again so that they can participate in real democracy. I don’t want them to show up with a speech and leave the work up to grassroot efforts. Voter suppression is worse than Russia’s hacks or Facebook’s political mangling or Trump’s tweets. It is a clear and present danger to democracy, and everyone knows it, and we know who is doing it because they have no reason to hide.
Welcome to the crucial time zone. Don’t forget to set your clocks back 40 years.