BY IRIS KELTZ
Confusion and anxiety permeate voting this year. Pundits constantly remind us how many days left until the November election. In the most important election of our lifetime, possibly our country, split TV screens show two candidates emblematic of dueling narratives struggling to capture the hearts and minds of Americans. One road is paved with unbridled racism, unending greed, lust for power and blatant disregard for life. The other is attempting to salvage our democracy amidst a pandemic and environmental collapse. Millions of Americans are in mad pursuit of justice in a terribly unjust world.
People are heading to the polls as if herd instinct to vote has erupted like a wildfire, even among those too young to vote. A group of high school and college students are organizing young people to be poll workers, a task traditionally handled by older citizens now considered too high risk for contracting the virus. In Texas, people are showing up at the polls in record numbers despite a federal court ruling that allowed the governor to leave only one ballot drop-off box in each county, even those with millions of registered voters. In Georgia, people have stood on voting lines up to 11 hours.
Wish I’d known something about the history of voting before wasting my first ever vote. A few highlights: 1789: the Naturalization Act granted the right to vote to property-owning and tax-paying white males. 1828: Non-property-holding while males were allowed to vote in a majority of states. 1920: The nineteenth amendment gave women the right to vote, a right not extended to women of color. 1887: The Dawes Act granted citizenship and the right to vote to Native Americans only if they dissociated themselves from their tribe. 1924: Native Americans were finally given the right to vote. 1948: Arizona and N.M. were the last states to extend full voting rights to Native Americans. 1961: Citizens in Washington, DC finally allowed to vote. 1965: The Voting Rights Act prohibiting racial discrimination in voting is considered the most effective federal civil rights legislation ever enacted. 1971: In response to the military draft during the Viet Nam War, adults 18-21 were granted the right to vote by the 26th Amendment. 2002: Help America Vote Act (HAVA) paid for new electronic voting machines and required states to keep a list of registered voters, lists that were not always accurate and thousands of people became disenfranchised. 2013: In a dangerous step backwards, the Supreme Court invalidated parts of the 1956 Voting Rights Act deciding that racial discrimination was over, that our country had changed. 2019: A bill to restore voting rights passed in the House but the Senate has yet to act.
In 1968, I was one of 10,000 anti-war protestors who came to the Democratic Convention in Chicago to stop the Vietnam War. Our Festival of Life became a police riot when Mayor Daley refused to grant permits to gather in Grant Park across from the convention where 3,000 armed police and the National Guard were waiting and ready. We were beaten and tear gassed while whole world watched. But little changed. The presidential nomination went to Hubert Humphrey and many of us gave up on the political system as a vehicle for change. In a foolish act of rebellion, I cast my precious vote for Pigasus, a 145-pound porcine protest candidate put up by the Youth International Party (the Yippies). Nixon won the election and the war continued until 1975 with the fall of Saigon. The late Hubert Humphrey once said, “Compassion is not weakness, and concern for the unfortunate is not socialism.” I still regret forfeiting my vote. Now is not the time to wait for the perfect candidate.
When my absentee ballot finally arrived in the mail, I embraced it like a long awaited love letter. I had been considering voting early in-person at a polling place, but was told that would require signing an affidavit swearing I had not voted twice, and be given a provisional ballot that might not be counted. The New Mexico ballot is long. Be prepared to make decisions in National, state, and local races, Justices for the NM Supreme Court, the Court of Appeals, constitutional amendments and in Taos, the hospital mil levy. Warning! Your ballot can be thrown out on a technicality. Fill in the bubbles completely. Make sure your name matches the one on record, including middle initials. No second chance.
A quote attributed to Stalin gained notoriety during the Bush/Gore election in 2000. In Florida, the vote was so close they were forced to do a time consuming manual count.
The controversy included serious irregularities including a confusing ballot layout causing many to vote for Pat Buchanan, the Reform Party candidate, instead of Al Gore; tens of thousands of voters were removed from the rolls in black precincts; voters were denied a ballot because they had been mislabeled as felons. Due to a huge increase in black voter turnout, local officials claimed they were overwhelmed. According to anecdotal evidence, voters experienced general harassment at polling stations. The landmark, life altering Bush Vs. Gore case was settled by the Florida Supreme Court. Bush won the state with a margin of 537 votes and Florida’s 29 electoral votes decided the election. The quote: “It’s not the people who vote that count. It’s the people who count the votes.” In 2020, we demand that all votes are counted!
With confidence in the US Post Office to meet the November deadline, I mailed my ballot (2 weeks early) as if delivering the Holy Grail. Whether your issue is health, the economy, immigrant or women’s rights, or the survival of our planet, vote as if your life and the life of future generations depends on the outcome of this election.
Voter Information https://www.sos.state.nm.us/voting-and-elections/voter-information-portal/ League of Women’s Voting Guide. (https://www.lwvcnm.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/2020_Voter_Guide_2.pdf.)
Track status of your ballot NMVOTE.ORG
Iris Keltz is a retired educator, activist and author of two award-winning books— Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie (2000) and Unexpected Bride in the Promised Land (2017). She has lived in Taos since 1970.