By Jim Dudley, St. Peter’s parishioner
Pastor Jim Wallis, President of Sojourners and an evangelical Christian minister, reminds us of the scandal of voter suppression that has occurred in our past and that is likely to happen again in the upcoming November election. Voter suppression is evident in any efforts to make voting more difficult for people who are poor, people of color, and other vulnerable groups. Also, to make sure that everyone’s vote counts equally. Specific efforts to suppress their vote in the past especially in the 2016 election include a long list of intrusions into every citizen’s right to vote. This problem all largely began in 2013 with the elimination of a key provision of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that was considered by many as the heart of this Act. A Supreme Court decision, in that case, freed nine states, including North Carolina, from changing their election laws without advanced federal approval. At the core of the disagreement was whether or not racial minorities could continue to face barriers to voting in states with a history of discrimination.
As a result of this Supreme Court decision, voter suppression efforts are more openly allowed including gerrymandering voting districts that end up favoring one political party over the other, and other efforts set up closer to elections. N.C. legislative districts currently have significant gerrymandering built into them and they are not likely to change before the November 2018 Election. Other suppression efforts include eliminating polling places in poorer areas, reducing polling hours and early voting days, excluding Sunday voting which is a traditional time of many African Americans who vote after their church services, and tightening voter ID requirements that exclude the only IDs that most poor people are likely to have.
Jim Wallis reminds us that such efforts are contrary to what we believe as Christians. Among the passages opposing such efforts in the New Testament is a familiar one in Matthew 25. “Jesus said, ‘For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ Jesus responded, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
The November election will soon be upon us and some of these obstacles to voting are resurfacing and others can still be added. Every county in N.C. has a local Board of Elections and almost all of them including Mecklenburg, Cabarrus, and Gaston, have submitted an Early Voting plan to the State Board of Election. They are currently waiting for its approval. Mecklenburg’s proposed plan so far seems reasonable if no changes are made to it (although the details are not yet available to the public), but very recent state initiatives can still make it more difficult for poor people and people of color to vote and to be informed about the complicated ballot that will be used. Time will tell.
We can become involved in many ways to ensure that the upcoming election is fair and accessible to all. Here are some of the ways we can help. We can register people to vote if they are not registered. The deadline for registering for the fall election is October 12. More broadly we can volunteer to educate people who are less likely to vote for numerous reasons including some of the voter suppression obstacles mentioned above. We can initiate or assist others in conducting educational campaigns to help people who are less likely to vote, including poor folks, people of color, and young people. These efforts should emphasize why both voting generally and voting in this important fall election are so important. Another possible effort is to volunteer at the polls during Early Voting beginning October 18 until November 3 and on Election Day, November 6, to help monitor for any possible wrong doing that interferes with election laws and the right of all citizens to vote. The Social Justice Committee will informally serve as a church resource to help St. Peter’s members and others find the best way for each of us to become more involved. Above all, we urge everyone to become well informed and vote.
To learn more about voter protection issues and ways you can help, please plan to attend the Social Justice Film, “Answering the Call” on September 26 at St. Peter’s, at 6:00p.m. Our next article will list some of the local non-partisan organizations that volunteers can join to help address voter suppression and protection. In the meantime, please feel free to contact members of the Social Justice Committee for more information.