Donald Trump is having a bad week, though of course he’d never admit it. His opponent, Hillary Clinton, just got a poll bounce after the Democratic convention that has her up nationally by as many as nine percentage points. He’s crowing about raising more than $35 million last month, when Mitt Romney raised almost three times that in July 2012. Having assured his Republican cohorts that he’d pivot his personality away from “asshole” during the general election, he’s instead begun it by getting into a disgraceful fight with the Muslim parents of an American soldier killed in the Iraq war.
But while he was using his personal slights to get his voters riled up, we hadn’t heard him talk much about the election itself. Why? Because he’s losing.
“I’m afraid the election’s gonna be rigged, I have to be honest,” Trump told his followers at a rally in Columbus, Ohio, on Monday. On Tuesday, he questioned the validity of complaints about voter-ID laws in an interview with the Washington Post, alleging that someone without identification could vote “multiple times. How about like 10 times. Why not?” Perhaps he’s preparing for the worst (best?), setting up his eventual loss as a result not of his own incompetence, but the failure of democracy itself. Which is ironic, given that there’s only one thing that can realistically rescue his shitshow of a campaign: people choosing not to vote, or not being able to. On that note, elections are actually rigged in this country — by the voter suppression laws cooked up by Trump’s own party. Thankfully, like Trump, those voter restrictions appear to be losing as well.
On Friday, the day after Reverend Doctor William Barber II, the head of the North Carolina NAACP and the Moral Monday movement, helped close out the Democratic convention with a fiery sermonic address about voting rights, a federal judge struck down North Carolina’s harsh voter-ID law, noting that it targeted African-American voters “with almost surgical precision.”
This was one of six restrictions struck down within the last two weeks alone; repressive voting measures in Texas, Michigan, Kansas, and Wisconsin were all invalidated by various federal courts. But as the New York Times reported on Sunday, ever since the Supreme Court crippled the Voting Rights Act in its 2013 Shelby County v. Holder ruling, racially discriminatory voting restrictions that would have previously been subject to federal review now surface often at the local level, and have done so in states like North Carolina, Alabama, Georgia, and Florida.
Voter suppression can look like anything from a deputy showing up at your house to question your registration to the sudden mass closing of driver’s license bureaus in areas with large black populations. The mechanisms vary, but the outcome rarely does — these measures tend to undermine specific populations that lean Democrat. Those populations are most easily identified by race, so it’s not surprising that the U.S. saw a surge in voter restrictions after the Shelby County decision. And though the tide seems to be turning now, there will still be forces working this fall to make sure that not everyone has equal access to the ballot.
So what do we do? Working to protect voters from this kind of harassment, by providing resources to electorates targeted by suppressive laws and behavior, will be necessary, especially since the Justice Department announced that it’ll be cutting back the number of federal observers who’d normally be doing that job (thanks, Supreme Court). Of course, the most direct and succinct way to combat voter suppression is just to get out there and vote.
Given the stakes in 2016, it has been discouraging to hear some Bernie Sanders supporters talk during the Democratic National Convention about sitting out this election entirely simply because their preferred candidate didn’t make it onto the ballot. Still: booing, staging walkouts, and even chanting “Hell, no, DNC, we won’t vote for Hillary” during a massive march through Philadelphia isn’t the problem. Even with the possibility of a Trump presidency looming, dissatisfied voters should make it clear to Democrats that Clinton still has to earn their votes. But what good are all the marches and walkouts and campaigning — the tools of democracy itself — if you sit things out in November? Choosing not to vote is the very opposite of making your voice heard.
To be fair, a recent ABC News poll indicates that 91 percent of Sanders backers will cast a vote for Clinton in November, so we’re not talking about many folks here. The smallest minority of these dead-enders can often be the loudest, however, and this backward notion of political abstinence as protest is especially strange when adopted by communities that are underrepresented in the first place. Back in May, Fusion talked with several young black people who decided that they wouldn’t be going to the polls. “I don’t know if I want to continuously partake in a system that oppresses so many people,” one said. But while you could make the argument that racial justice is best pursued outside of electoral politics, you can’t expect politicians to bother listening to those who are unwilling to participate in the process at all.
This isn’t about the history of our forebears fighting, bleeding, and dying for the ability to vote, although that’s certainly good motivation. But this is about what’s happening now. There’s a good reason why Republicans utilize a pattern of voter intimidation and suppression: Their ideas are losing, as are their candidates in many areas of the country. And now they’ve gone and nominated an overgrown child for president. Trump represents a historic threat not just to the White House, but to the country itself, and young people would have to contend with his catastrophe longer than anyone. Whether or not you feel Clinton is a suitable alternative to Trump, there are still important down-ballot races to consider when deciding whether or not to head to the polls come November. Those will determine everything from local representatives to judges to local law enforcement.
“Not voting is not a protest,” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Sanders supporter, during his convention address last Monday in Philadelphia. “It is a surrender.” But it’s even more than that: It does the vote suppressors’ job for them. Sitting out isn’t a way to make yourself heard. It just guarantees you’ll be ignored.