By Patricia Brigham – There are people out there who don’t want you to vote. It’s an unfortunate fact of American history from the Jim Crow poll taxes of the early to mid-20th century to voter ID laws, cutting early vote times, restricting voter registration and outright purging of voter rolls. In the past several years in Florida, we have seen the state Legislature attempt to limit the number of ex-felons who can vote after that constitutional right was restored under Amendment 4. After hashing out this legislation in the courts, the 11th Circuit ruled that it is indeed okay to require ex-felons who have completed their sentences to pay off any outstanding fines and fees. Translation: A modern day poll tax.
And the beat goes on to attempt to suppress the vote in the 2020 November election from last minute state “guidance” on guarding secure vote-by-mail drop boxes, to some individual Supervisors of Elections seeming lack of concern to make voting more accessible to Communities of Color.
To top off these layers of attempted voter suppression has been the US president’s insistence that vote-by-mail is a big fraud (except in his home state of Florida). However, since the beginning of the 21st century, 250 million votes have been cast via mailed-out ballots, in all 50 states, according to the Vote at Home Institute. In 2018, more than 31 million Americans voted by mail. And according to the Brennan Center for Justice, “Despite this dramatic increase in mail voting over time, fraud rates remain infinitesimally small.”
There are also those naysayers who claim that your vote “doesn’t count.” But think about it. If it didn’t, why would so many go to such extremes to suppress the vote?
And so what should be the citizen response? The only one that matters is to vote (and to wear a mask to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 while doing so).
Do not allow yourself to be intimidated by cranky, rowdy (or worse) behavior from people who show up at polling places shouting at you about how your candidate will ruin the country. Ignore them. Don’t even make eye contact with them. Stare straight ahead. You are on a mission to exercise your greatest duty as an American citizen. March into that polling place and cast your ballot. After you’re done, report the troublemakers by calling Election Protection at 866-OUR-VOTE.
If you still have your vote by mail ballot, it’s now too late to stick it in the mail. But you have options: Once you fill it out, sign the back of the envelope and seal it, you can then take it directly to your Supervisor of Elections office and hand it to a staff member or place it into the secure drop box. Or surrender it at your polling place on election day, and get a new ballot.
Your vote is your power, the most critical power you have as a citizen of the United States. Your vote determines not just how you want our country and state to be governed, but how you want your communities to be shaped. Your city commissions. County commissions. School boards. They all make decisions that will directly affect you, your families and your friends.
So, if you haven’t already, get ready to vote. Your future depends on it.
Patricia Brigham is the president of the League of Women Voters of Florida