By SUSAN K. SMITH
Crazy Faith Ministries
There was a time when Black folks had to pay a poll tax, or recite the United States Constitution by heart, or tell a poll worker how many jellybeans were in a jar in order to be able to vote.
The Black vote was considered to be so powerful that the power structure knew it had to neutralize and/or eliminate it, no matter what.
The Black vote is still important – as are the votes of other marginalized people who tend to vote Democratic – and for that reason, “the new poll tax,” voter suppression, is in full view.
Ahead of Kentucky’s primary this week, polling places have been reduced – from over 3,700 to fewer than 200. In Jefferson County, the state’s largest county, all voters will have to cast their ballots at a convention and expo center, where voting booths have been set up 8 feet apart on the convention floor, according to The Washington Post.
This is not surprising, given what happened in the recent Wisconsin and Georgia primaries, where people stood in line for hours to cast their votes. There has been no support or protection for voters given by the high courts in these states, where, unsurprisingly, Republican candidates are being seriously challenged and who may lose in November’s general election.
In spite of the objections of the residents of these states to having to appear personally at polling booths because of the danger of having large numbers of people congregate due to COVID-19, there is still pushback to the suggestion that people be allowed to vote by mail in order to protect their health.
The Republican power structure does not care.
The question is, then, how do we meet and deal with this challenge ahead of the November general election?
It seems fairly clear that courts are not ruling on the side of voter protection by allowing people to vote by mail. The GOP strategy seems to be to make voting as difficult as possible – if not impossible – for the largest numbers of Black and Brown people, certainly, but for all residents who traditionally vote for Democrats.
How many more poll workers are going to be needed? Who is going to train them and who is going to oversee that training? Are there new voting machines? How do we make sure the poll workers know how to work them? Do we have to have a brigade of people charged simply with making sure there are enough extension cords – the right kind – so that the voting machines can be connected to power?
Do we need another brigade of people to minister to the lines of waiting people – providing food and water, and perhaps chairs for them as they wait in line? Do we need to make sure we have umbrellas available, or hats and gloves for states where the November day will be cold? Do there need to be dedicated teams assigned to childcare? What kind of pressure can be put on employers now so that if their employees are in line all day to vote, they will not have to worry about being fired or losing a day’s pay?
Can election day be declared a holiday in states? Can early voting be extended?
This is going to be a different type of election, one where the new poll tax will be a huge factor in turnout. We cannot depend on government to help the masses, and we cannot expect protection and support from the judicial system. This will be an election “of the people, by the people, and for the people” in a way that it has never been before. The masses will have to rise up and organize in ways they’ve never done before, in order to make sure their votes are cast, honestly tallied, and pivotal in getting the candidates and issues passed that are needed in this time where basic democracy is being threatened.
There is no time to merely complain and/or wring our hands. This is a time to anticipate what’s ahead and strategize to beat it. Organized people is how to meet and defeat organized injustice and tyranny. There might be a new poll tax, but the power rests with the people.
And at this time in history, that power is more important than ever before.
Rev. Dr. Susan K. Smith is the founder and director of Crazy Faith Ministries. Her latest book, Rest for the Justice-Seeking Soul, is now available through Barnes and Noble and Amazon. She is available for speaking. Contact her at email@example.com.