Updated: Jun 30, 2021
Contributed by Joyce Lin
After the fifth call with voting officials, he sat despairingly staring yet again at another meticulously prepared voting ballot. This would be the fifth time he would call in, only to have his ballot rejected. Frustration held my brother, but he realized he could not afford to glare on his position anymore; otherwise, he would miss his shift. Missing a day as a cashier at Burger King would mean a fifty-eight dollar loss. That would mean fifty-eight less dollars to pay for student loans, fifty-eight less dollars to pay for his next week’s meals, and fifty-eight less dollars to continue providing daily necessities for himself. This scenario is all too familiar to underclass minorities across the country who, like my brother, live in areas where accessibility to voting is hindered by complex legislative red-tape.
159 million ballots were cast in the 2020 presidential election. While it seems likely that a single or even a couple of votes could shift the outcome of an election, votes from lower-income minorities made an outsized impact on key districts. This year’s election was the closest in American history, as Joseph R. Biden Jr. won key states by less than one percent (Desilver). Higher income individuals are substantially more likely to vote than those who earn less. Had the other 34 of the 63 million low-income citizens filled out a ballot, the outcome could have been different (Weeks).
The socioeconomically disadvantaged were not unwilling to vote, but were prevented from doing so due to the difficulty of reconciling stringent and complex rules with other aspects of their lives. Those who are financially deprived cannot afford to miss shifts at work. When their time is not spent at work, there’s a possibility that they must partake in their loved one’s lives, such as being a parent. Voting requires time, and in high participation areas such as Florida, 17% of Florida voters had to miss work and wait in lines upwards of half an hour to cast their votes (The Voting Process). If these citizens wanted to avoid a busy location, they could do so by going to a less crowded establishment. The problem is, most inner-city residents, where a majority of lower-income citizens reside, do not own a car (Vehicle Ownership).
Even socioeconomically privileged minorities face more discouraging obstacles than their non-minority counterparts. While waiting inline at voting places, groups such as African Americans and Hispanics were asked to show identification up to 70% more than non-minorities, leading a significant percentage of the population to feel intimidated at those polls (Alvarez).
While it may seem like a small hassle to provide a driver's license, certain programs eliminate these groups from participating in civic engagement. The “exact match” system implemented in Georgia disqualifies any ballot with a name that does not match their federal identification. A large part of these consequences affect Americans who are not familiar with English (Valverde).
Non-English speakers are more inclined to skip out on voting. Pennsylvania, a major swing state, has over 111,000 eligible voters who have limited English proficiency (Previti).Election news may not have reached this group of citizens, as non-English news stations often do not cover US elections. The foreign news outlets that do cover elections, such as Mr.capacho en vivo, tend to spread misinformation regarding candidates(Bing). Even if non-English citizens are made aware of the election, it’s difficult finding where and when to drop off ballots and other voting registration procedures.
The “exact match” system exacerbates this issue. If the procedural directions are not clear to a person who does not understand English, they face the aforementioned consequences. A lack of resources and attention to address these concerns effectively diminishes the impact of minority voices in the civic process.
Minorities such as my parents were unable to distinguish between the sex indicated M/F on their voting ballots, nor could they comprehend the other required information. Being newly immigrated citizens with no friends or family in a foreign country, my parents could not ask for help. Irritation piled and finally overtook their spirits, which had led to them dismissing the process altogether.
Experiences like these are what effectively disenfranchise a large portion of the population. In fact 83% of Americans feel that this country is divided by race and ethnicity, with minorities feeling the most isolated (averaging 88%) (Najle).
As Americans we ought to help those around us and advocate for legislation that serves the underprivileged. We should create federal organizations that hire translators who can transcribe the contents on a ballot. For those who are geographically challenged, placing more ballot boxes in inner-city locations will allow for less congested lines as well as convenience to those who do not own vehicles. Voting days could beheld as a federal holiday to alleviate the stress some have of attending both work and polls. No matter the policy, the only way this country can achieve more civic engagement is if we make the voting procedure more accessible to those who are vulnerable and disadvantaged.
23, Facebook post stated in March, et al. “PolitiFact- Georgia's 'Exact Match' Law and
the Abrams-Kemp Governor's Election, Explained.”@Politifact, www.politifact.com/article/2018/oct/19/georgias-exact-match-law-and-its-impact-voters-gov/.
Alvarez, R. Michael, and Thad E. Hall. “Resolving Voter Registration Problems: Making
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Governing. Vehicle Ownership in U.S. Cities Data and Map, www.governing.com/archive/car-
Najle, Maxine. “American Democracy in Crisis: The Fate of Pluralism in a Divided Nation.”
PRRI, 19 Feb. 2019, www.prri.org/research/american-democracy-in-crisis-the-fate-of-pluralism-in-a-divided-nation/.
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