It’s been an interesting year in American politics, to put it mildly. And with two-plus months left until the Presidential election, I have grave concerns about what our country will look like post-inauguration. These worries have remained mostly abstract, though…until last week.
I went to my polling place – the one clearly indicated on my voter registration card – to cast my ballot for mayor and city council. I presented my card and driver’s license to the poll worker, who scoured the roll and told me I was not listed on it. “Have you voted here before?” she asked. I replied that I had.
I was not surprised by this bump in the process. My husband had attempted to vote earlier in the day and run into the same problem. Our house, Matt was told, does not sit within the bounds of the municipality. (Except that it does, as clearly indicated by the district map at the precinct.) The poll worker called the Board of Registrars on Matt’s behalf. Out of that conversation he was sent to city hall and then to the office of the Board of Registrars. There the representative agreed that we should have been eligible to vote in this election, but said that no changes could be made to the rolls at this point. “You’ll have to go back to the precinct and ask for a provisional ballot.” [Insert much grumbling here about driving all around town, only to be sent back to stop #1.] Matt did as he was told and sat down beside another man filling out a provisional ballot. In the meantime, a woman came into the precinct, was told she was not on the rolls, and then was sent away with no further offer of help.
So when the poll worker told me she could not find my name, I told her that my husband had already encountered this situation and had voted provisionally. “Oh, you want to vote provisional?” She seemed surprised. She handed me the provisional ballot sign-in…and I was number three on the list. For the day. Right behind Matt, who had voted a full five hours earlier. I was stunned. It seemed highly unlikely that no one had come in during that time frame needing a provisional ballot. When election results came in, the three city council contenders for the district were separated by 17 votes. While my presidential vote (which I will cast) will do nothing to stop the crimson tide, you can’t convince me that every vote doesn’t count in a race like this one.
When Matt was appointed to his current church, he availed himself of a demographic service to help him understand his new context. It revealed that the church – and our parsonage – sits at the intersection of neighborhoods that are very different from each other racially/ethnically and socioeconomically. (I am proud to say that the church is very involved with some of the neighborhoods that struggle with poverty and with navigating a city that is designed for fluent English speakers.) Overlaying that information with the district map was illuminating and disheartening. You can probably guess which homes either conveniently lie just outside the city limits or right on the edge, in danger of being scooted to the other side when heads are turned.
In the last seven days Matt has been diligently working to track down information about what caused our voting glitch. He’s registered a complaint with the city attorney. He’s also been messaging and tweeting at media outlets to alert them to the appearance of voting irregularities in our district. (Through his social media campaign he’s been contacted by several people whose experiences mirrored ours.) I’ve been trying to find out what help folks like us who mysteriously fell off the rolls should have been offered and what means of recourse we have when such assistance is not forthcoming.
Matt’s efforts have paid off – for us. City officials have assured us that our names will appear on the rolls for the October 4 run-off election. Great. But what about the people who don’t have the time or knowledge of the system to get relevant information and apply appropriate pressure? They deserve as much as we do to participate in decisions that will affect us all. What can I – what must I – do in the coming days, as a matter of faith and of citizenship, to promote the enfranchisement of my neighbors? What happens if I don’t do these things?