Josh Hamilton and his wife were turned away from voting on Super Tuesday due to being in a status of “suspense.” Democracy in action. Imagine how many others will be denied their right to vote?
For the past few months, my students and I have been studying the political primary process and the various candidates running for office. As an educator, I firmly believe it is one of my many obligations to teach students not only about how the political process in America functions, but the importance of moving beyond voter as spectator and into voter as informed participant.
We spent many hours examining different candidates’ statements, positions, and policy proposals on both sides of the aisle and engaged in discourse supporting or questioning each candidate. After months of research, both with my students and independently, I had come to find that I aligned best with a candidate that I would never have thought to vote for initially. For the first time in my decade of voting potential I was not only prepared to vote, but enthusiastic about the process because I was informed. In addition, my students were excited for me, as the vast majority of them are not yet of voting age, and encouraged me to pick up a few of the “I Voted” stickers to bring back for them. All in all, the past few months of lessons and studying were not only beneficial for my students, who now could hang with the best in a debate over presidential politics, but for me as well.
Super Tuesday arrived and my wife gathered together the documents I would need to take with me to the polling station. I was not sure why she asked me to wait on her to gather documents to take with me because in the past I just showed up, presented my driver license, and voted. Boom, done, not a problem. However, my wife reminded me of the voter notification we received the week prior to Super Tuesday stating that our voter status was still in a state of “suspense” because we had moved in September and submitted our voting registration cards back in late January or early February. So, because of the move, we thought that perhaps our new voting precinct just needed proof that we were officially residing in our new county, and we could prove that with multiple forms of documentation.
I arrived and first noticed the placards declaring, “No political signs on district grounds.” As I approached the building, I noticed several signs for one particular candidate in a state house race that has been embattled in a contentious election primary. I found it odd that that signs clearly stated “no political signs,” yet this one candidate seemed to get the pass on this particular rule.
As I entered, I headed toward the primary section in which I was voting and was met with a greeting and then immediately by confusion. When I could not be found on the voter registration list, the polling specialist called over an election judge to clarify. When I explained the moving situation and presented my documents, the judge made a call to get further clarification.
What transpired next was democracy in action.
I was told that because of the “suspense” status our residency could not be verified at this time and because of this my wife and I would not vote at this polling station. Confused, and a littler perturbed, I began to plan my day around heading up to the nearby county in which we used to live. When I asked to clarify if I could vote in the county we used to reside, I was told “no” again because of the “suspense” status.
I was stunned. What she was telling me was that my wife and I had no way of voting at all in the election on Super Tuesday. The judge tried to reassure by stating, “You should be fine by any runoffs or the general though!”
Needless to say, I left feeling a range of emotions from confused to frustrated, from disappointed to un-American. Not only did I feel like not voting was letting the system down, but I felt as it had let me down as well.
If I cannot vote because of my suspended status, imagine how many people experience the same thing due to moving (perhaps multiple times in between election cycles) for various reasons including but not limited to: poverty/evictions, job loss/gain, opportunity/lack of opportunity—you name it.
The systems “suspense” category classifies my wife and me as essentially being homeless which got my students asking me, “Can homeless people not vote?” To which I sadly had to tell them, no, they cannot without some sort of residency. One student looked me dead in the eye and said, “That’s not a democracy then.”
Although my wife and I are upset, we both take solace in the fact that our experience is generating discussion, online and in my classroom. Students are now interested in how voting actually functions and who decides where/how we vote. Imagine (if they were upset for me about this morning) how they’re going to feel when they learn about gerrymandering ….