Take a Stand TC: Enable essential workers to vote
I was raised a Milliken Republican. Most of us in TC supported our hometown governor. I learned from his words that honesty, fairness and representing all people, including those who did not vote for you, was of utmost importance.
Attending Central Grade School, we were taught about voting. As real polls opened in the gymnasium on November’s Election Tuesday in 1980, we held mock elections using shoe box ballot boxes covered in red, white and blue construction paper. This was the Cold War; we learned about less fortunate countries where people did not have the right to vote. We learned that others in so-called democracies feared death if they did not vote for a particular candidate and were either given only a single choice on the ballot or were blocked from voting entirely.
We learned that opposing candidates could be killed by a controlling regime. We learned that in poor countries polling locations were often distant and people could not get there due to work and family responsibilities that could not be ignored if a family hoped to put dinner on the table in hand-to-mouth economies. Our Republican leaders taught us that the way to kill a democracy is to stop people from voting and that if a candidate has to prevent citizens from voting to win, it is a sure path to the greatly feared enemy: communism. Not a victory, but a tyranny.
Yet voter suppression has plagued the U.S. It wasn’t until the 15th Constitutional Amendment that voting was expanded on a national level beyond white male taxpayers/landowners. Republicans and Democrats both repeatedly – in 1970, 1975, 1982 and 2006 – supported extending the 1965 Voting Rights Act, though policy to enforce these laws has been political. Is it fear of losing an election that leads to blocking We the People from voting? Why is pro-voting considered Democrat instead of pro-democracy? Fairness of the type taught by Republican Gov. Milliken settles for nothing less than enabling all citizens to vote.
At its root, voter suppression is an issue of inclusion. Vote-blocking tactics aside, there is an inherent bias toward the wealthy. For the poor, day-to-day life responsibilities including work schedules and childcare get in the way of citizens’ ability to get to the polls. It disproportionately impacts women, who are often the family caregivers. It disproportionately impacts blue collar, hourly and front line workers who are not able to leave work early, come in late or take a break to vote.
Since 2016 we have heard of poll locations closing, making it even harder to vote during a lunch break and get back to work. Many front line workers rush to pick up kids from childcare after long shifts. Getting dinner on the table is the last act before collapsing at the end of a busy day. Money is needed to put dinner on the table and the reality for most Americans is that we live in a hand-to-mouth society. A day of income cannot be missed.
There are two apparent solutions. First, mail-in ballots would bridge the wealth gap, allowing those not able to leave work to cast a ballot. Fear from COVID-19 has precipitated changes in state laws allowing absentee voting for “any reason,” instead of limiting it to travel. When you think about it, the absentee voting rules to date have been biased toward the wealthy by allowing mail-in voting by citizens with the means to travel. One would think that “I have to work” is a much stronger reason for absentee voting than “I’m taking a vacation.” Work travel and work without travel are both great reasons for remote voting.
With COVID-19 increasing demand for absentee voting, claims of voter fraud from mail-in ballots arise. The USPS has dismantled itself, leaving it less able to timely process mailed ballots than during our last election cycle. (Wasn’t this potential fraud already there for the traveling wealthy? Why is it suddenly a problem?)
While there has been much discussion over disproportionate impact if mail-in voting is not allowed during COVID-19, the permanent issue is that for blue-collar, essential and hourly workers, lack of mail-in voting suppresses votes long after viruses are cured.
A second solution is to recognize voting day as a national holiday or to hold it on a weekend. Many democracies throughout the world do this. Making it a national holiday celebrates democracy and typically results in higher voter turnout. People do not have to miss a day of work to vote and children can attend and learn firsthand the importance of choosing a government.
President Obama called for a National Voting Day holiday during his eulogy of Rep. John Lewis, lifelong warrior to end racial voter suppression by saying, “So if you are somebody who is working in a factory or you’re a single mom who’s got to go to her job and doesn’t get time off, you can still cast your ballot.”
Shouldn’t the U.S. – self-proclaimed leader of democracy – lead the world in inclusive voting rights? Yet even if a law passed for a national holiday, private businesses would not be required to make it a paid holiday. Hourly paid employees could still be disadvantaged.
Let’s do better TC. I am proud to celebrate our democracy by making November’s Election Tuesday a paid holiday at Naveego. Northern Michigan business leaders: I challenge you to do the same. At a bare minimum, allow your workers to come in a few minutes late, leave early or have extra break time on Election Tuesday to get to the polls.
Katie Horvath is the CEO of Naveego.