OUR VOTES CAN’T BE SILENCED

By LCV Government Affairs Fellow Amy Park

I am not a morning person. Despite this, I was wide awake at 7 AM. After all, it was Tuesday, November 6, 2018: the day of the midterm elections. I had been waiting for this day for as long as I could remember; it was the first election I was old enough to vote in. As I bustled around my room getting ready, I could not help but feel influential. Growing up, I had been taught to use my voice and to make it heard. Wherever I went and whatever I did, I kept this in mind. On this day in particular, I knew my voice and my vote mattered. My parents and I got into our car and drove about ten minutes to our polling place at the local elementary school. We waited about 10 minutes in line, chatting with the sweet old couple in front of us. I told them it was my first time voting, and as I rambled on about how excited I was, they looked at me with a knowing smile. They shared how long they had been coming to the polls, making their voices heard. Inside the cafeteria, voting was a breeze. I was even taken aback by how quickly the process was over. One minute, I was selecting the circles on the screen next to the names of candidates I spent so much time researching. The next minute, I proudly stuck my “I’m a Georgia Voter” sticker on my shirt. I will never forget the immense pride and joy I felt after casting my ballot, making my voice heard in our democracy.

Little did I know that less than an hour away from where I cast my first ballot in minutes, other Georgia voters did not have that same experience.

The 2018 midterm elections in Georgia were an infringement of voting rights and our democracy. Communities of color and low-income communities in Georgia had to wait in longer lines before casting their ballot. A study found that the longest waits were in Fulton County, GA, which encompasses the city of Atlanta. These long waits were due to delayed openings at polling places, reduction of polling locations, and malfunctioning machines, among other voter suppression tactics.

 As I read news alerts on voter suppression in Georgia throughout the day, I was shocked by the differences from my own reality. Access to the ballot should not be determined by one’s zip code. Unfortunately, this was not the case in the 2018 midterms. And it happened again in the 2020 primary election this past June. Coupled with the pandemic, Georgia voters confronted long lines and malfunctioning machines, yet again. Some majority Black polling locations had no working machines, and other locations had voters waiting for four hours to cast their ballots. These issues are not isolated incidents; they are acts of voter suppression targeted towards low-income and communities of color. 

As we continue to grapple with the forms of systemic racism that our nation has been built on, we cannot overlook the voter suppression occurring in our peripheries or even in our own towns. Where one lives should not determine how easily one can make their voice heard in elections. We cannot risk letting this happen again in November. And as a voter who has been fortunate enough to not experience these deliberate and despicable acts of voter suppression, I cannot stand by in silence. I felt so much pride in using my voice at the ballot, and I will continue to use my voice to highlight the stories of democratic injustices shouldered disproportionately by communities of color and low-income communities.

 Voting for pro-environment candidates in fair and free elections is a way we can all pursue and fight for racial and environmental justice. It is critical that we address the multiple and repeated failures of Georgia’s elections to ensure all voters, regardless of address, have uncontested access to the polls this November. This is crucial to our democracy.

I’ll be voting with both justice and equality on my mind this November, and I encourage others to do the same. It is up to us to elect leaders who will fight for all of us and all of our voices, especially Black, Indigenous, and People of Color individuals. This is our opportunity to advocate for those who will protect our democracy and ensure fair and free elections. In addition to recognizing the systemic inequalities entrenched in voting rights, I recognize the intersectionality of the issues we face today. I will use my voice to advocate for lawmakers who prioritize the environment and environmental justice. As we head towards a crucial election, please take a look at the League of Conservation Voters Action Fund’s endorsed candidates as well as LCV’s National Environmental Scorecard for an indication of how incumbents have prioritized environmental issues. While I am thankful for my positive experiences voting and will forever remember the pride I felt after casting my first ballot, I will always be reminded of the injustices others endured on the same day so close to home. I look forward to using the voice and opportunity I have with the League of Conservation Voters and in my future to strengthen the quality of our democracy and ensure each and every one of our voices is heard this November. I am using my voice today, and I will continue to do so because we are all in this fight together.

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