TheGrio Daily

Will Your Vote Count?

Episode 54

“My ancestors fought so hard for us to vote.” As midterm elections approach, Michael Harriot discusses some of the tactics that are used to deter voters and invalidate votes.

[00:00:00] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

Michael Harriot [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to another episode of theGrio Daily. And you know, I know that over the past couple of weeks, man, everybody’s been, you know, in your face trying to convince you to vote. Saying you vote? You registered to vote? Or are you going to vote in the midterm elections? And let’s be clear, like it is important to participate in the electoral process, to participate in politics. You know, you can’t leave the political future of Black people or people in general up to white people. So I always think that it is important for Black people to vote, especially since for me, like, not only does it have anything to do with politics, but like, you know, my ancestors and my some of them who are still living fought so hard for us to vote. And I think it’s disrespectful for them and the hard, hard work they put in to just be like, Yeah, I’m cool. I don’t feel like doing that. Or, You know, I have a reason that I don’t want to participate in voting. It’s like when your when your mom cooks you a really good meal and she’s slaves over the stove all day. You’re like, I ain’t hungry. I’ll eat it later, right? Like I get real mad at that, because I’m one of those people who as soon as I finish cooking and put the food on a plate, you got to eat right while it’s hot or I’ll be mad at you because you disrespected in my hard work. And that’s how I feel about voting. So, welcome to theGrio Daily, the only podcast that doesn’t just rock the vote. We Milly Rock to vote. 

Michael Harriot [00:01:47] I’m world famous wypipologist Michael Harriot and this is theGrio Daily. And today we’re going to not just talk about voting, but we’re going to talk about this seldom talked about reality or this phenomenon that’s becoming more prevalent about Black people’s vote not counting. And you like, what are you talking about? Yeah, you just don’t have to go to the voting booth and cast your ballot. Now you just got to, nowadays, you have to make sure that your vote counts. And there are many ways that Black people can be disenfranchized. And I know we like to, you know, talk about the efforts that come before we vote, right? Like we talk like to talk about how they move the ballot boxes or the polls or they close polls in Black neighborhoods. How Black neighborhoods have fewer and less, less modern voting machines. We always talk about how Black neighborhoods or people in Black neighborhoods have to wait actually longer to vote. That’s one of my favorite statistics, especially since there was this study done that didn’t just specifically target some neighborhoods. It used cell phone data from every voting precinct in America and found out that Black people have to wait about 30% longer than people in white neighborhoods to vote. 

Michael Harriot [00:03:15] But we not talking about any of that today, because all of that happens before you actually get to the ballot box. Right. Well, what we’re going to talk about today is what if you go to vote like you studied your candidates and then they just threw away your vote? What? That actually happens a lot and specifically for Black and nonwhite voters. So we’re going to talk about that today. And first of all, you have to realize, like a lot of what I’m talking about is not just a mistake or, you know, we like to call it a disparity. Disparity. But what we’re talking about is purposeful. It’s intentional. It’s another way to disenfranchize Black voters. So let’s begin with, you know, one of the newest ways. And in some states, including most notably Georgia, that new slate of election laws included a provision that allows anybody like you, me, to go up and say, hey, I know this is where Michael Harriot voted. I want to challenge his vote. And, you know, you can challenge it for any reason. You don’t actually have to give a reason. You can just literally walk up to an election official and say, I want to challenge Michael Harriot’s vote. And they will look into whether or not I voted legally. They will check the signatures. They will check, you know, everything that would possibly invalidate my vote. 

Michael Harriot [00:04:53] And the reason this is important is because in the upcoming election, Republicans are using this tactic to essentially send out hordes of people to Black precincts and Black neighborhoods and challenge votes wholesale. They’re not just challenging Michael Harriot’s vote. They’re challenging, they get a list of the voter rolls, which is in a lot of places publicly available and challenge 2, 3000 people’s votes who they suspect because there’s no real way to know it, who’s who they suspect are voting illegally. And a lot of times it’s not they suspect they’re just, you know, grasping at straws, hoping that something invalidates that person’s vote. And you say, well, how can they just target Black people with this? Well, first of all, we know America is segregated. So most Black people, 40% of Black people in the country live in predominantly Black neighborhoods. So that’s one way. And then they’re targeting specifically African-American districts. Right. 

Michael Harriot [00:06:00] And in Georgia, the reason that they can do this is because when you register to vote, Georgia keeps statistics on how many Black people are registered in each voting district. So they could just pick the Black as districts and target them to just challenge their votes, hoping that, well, a certain percentage of votes are going to be, you know, miscast anyway in every election. But if you target, let’s say, Fulton County, which isn’t just one of the Blackest counties in Georgia, it’s the most populous voting district in Georgia. So if you just only go to Fulton County and challenge votes, then you’re able because some of those votes are going to be miscast for a number of reasons. Right. And which we’ll get into. But you can disproportionately toss out those ballots, which can affect an election. So what could cause them to toss out a vote? Well, one of the things that Georgia and many other states use is this signature match verification program. Right. That, you know, studies have shown courts have ruled is illegal in some states. Some states have ruled that it is just disproportionately disenfranchizes nonwhite people in this for a number of reasons. Like, for instance, if you’ve registered to vote with your license and you have, for instance, an apostrophe in your name, and the person who typed that into the system in your local voting precinct made a mistake and misspelled your name, you’re technically disqualified from voting because your voter registration doesn’t match your other state documentation that you use to vote, whether it is your an apostrophe in your name or whether you have a hyphenated last name or have some kind of punctuation in your last name, which a lot of Hispanic people or want to do. 

Michael Harriot [00:08:07] For instance, if you have an emphasis on a syllable of your name that shows up on your driver’s license, but instead of, you know, putting that slash this way, they put it this way, that could technically disqualify you from voting. And the other thing is that people who are staffing polls aren’t trained to verify signatures, in other words, they’re not experts on how people sign things. They’re not handwriting experts. So they can just take a glance at your signature and say, hey, this just doesn’t look right. You could have, you know, signed one way five years ago when you got your license and then signed another way this year, you could have, you know, changed your last name because you got married. But this is a big one. One of the ways that they do this is because let’s say you moved and you still live in the same precinct. A lot of people just won’t, you know, change their address because it’s the same precinct. Well, we know that Black people are more likely to move than white people for a lot of reasons, for jobs, for rising rent, for the cost of housing. And if you don’t change your address because, you know, sometimes there is no need to you could move across the street sometimes. And this is a crazy one. Like there are cases where people never moved, but the address of their apartment building changed because like they built a new entrance to the apartment building or the street address that’s used by the post office changed just because of sometimes towns and cities do that. Sometimes they’ve changed the zip code. Well, technically, you can be disqualified from voting. And if they target Black areas and if they use Black precincts, white people and Republicans to specifically target Black voters, even if Black people are not more likely to make a mistake in their voting documentation, they can still affect an election because again, a certain percentage of all votes, if you really examine it, a certain percentage of people make a mistake on their ballots or either their registration or it might not be your fault. It might be the person who put it into the system. Again, they can still technically disqualify you from voting. 

Michael Harriot [00:10:49] And all across the country, especially in Georgia, Republicans have started to use this tool. There’s a good AP story by one of our friends, Erin Haynes. And, you know, she writes for the Philadelphia Inquirer also that talks about this new effort to basically sending out people or an army to do this. And you would say, that’s crazy. How could they do this? Well, here’s something that you should know. So there was in the late eighties, early nineties, the Republicans tried to do this with what they call a ballot security team. And they just literally gave white people armbands and said, this is our ballot security team. And they went to precincts. And instead of challenging votes to election officials, they would just walk up to people and say, I want to see your ID. And, you know, a white person with a armband kind of looks kind of official. And not only did people just leave and say, oh, they must be questioning me, but a lot of immigrants, you know, were scared, even if they weren’t technically in the country illegally and didn’t vote. And there was a order, the NAACP and a few organizations got together and they sued the Republican National Committee and a federal judge stopped the Republican National Committee and the Republican Party from actually sending any kind of people to the polls to examine or question voters. 

Michael Harriot [00:12:32] Well, they had what they call a consent decree decree, which means, like, you got to pay these people money, but you’ll agree not to do this certain thing in any way for a certain amount of time. Well, that consent decree expired in 2016, and that’s not the only way they can disenfranchize you after you voted. So again, in Georgia and in Arizona and a few other states, they had this provision in these new slate of of voter laws, not just ID, but what they did is say, look, what we’re going to do now is we’re going to question the people who actually won an election. Again, we’re going to focus on Fulton County in Georgia for this one because it’s majority Black. So the majority of the election officials are Democrat or Black. Well, in this new Georgia law, they can say, well, we sent a bunch of people to this precinct and there was a certain percentage of ballots that were miscast or a certain number of irregularities in this voting precincts. Now, again, in this new law, they don’t have to compare it with the average voter precinct or they don’t have to show that, well, it’s above a certain limit or a threshold. They can just say, well, doesn’t look right to me. And what happens is the party in charge in the case of Georgia, the Republican Party, the party in charge of the legislature can just appoint people to be in charge of that voting precinct. And because these unelected people can replace elected voting officials, they can in turn invalidate the entire voting precinct if they want to, or they can challenge a every vote or they can have a recount or they can just say, we’re going to examine a certain percentage. And again, if they only target certain precincts, they’re going to find some discrepancies and disenfranchize a certain number of people. And again, like you have to remember in this entire state of Georgia, where they have 5 million voters. What did Trump win Georgia by? 11,000 votes. That’s how close these elections are and that’s how effective these disenfranchisement efforts can be. We’ll continue this conversation next time on theGrio Daily. If you like what you heard, please give us a five star review. Download theGrio app, subscribe to the show and share it with everyone you know. 

[00:15:20] You are now listening to theGrio’s Black Podcast Network, Black Culture Amplified. 

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