On Election Day, I decided that I would exercise my constitutional right and head to the polls to vote. I arrived at my polling station in suburban Miami-Dade County about an hour before polls closed. After handing over my ID and briefly waiting, I was given my ballot and directed to a booth where I could vote. Upon completion, I scanned my vote. That's when I witnessed something I hoped I would never see; A young African-American male was being denied the right to vote.
I paused by the entrance and decided to listen in as to what the poll workers were telling him. "I'm sorry sir, we do not except this form of ID to vote." I looked over to see what the young man was holding, it was a U.S. Passport. He questioned their decision and asked again why his passport wasn't valid. Another poll worker stepped in and reiterated their last statements. "No sir, we need to actually have your drivers license present in order for you to be allowed to vote", the male poll worker said with a stern face. He finished off with, "Your passport doesn't have your current address on it so I cannot let you vote."
Appearing defeated, the young man decided to leave, but as he stepped outside, I went over to him, still flabbergasted as to what I just experienced. I asked him a question, in the most non-invasive way, if it was possible that his passport wasn't signed or maybe it was expired. With a somber look on his face, he shook his head and proceeded to pull out his passport to show me. I quickly glanced at it, ensuring it had a valid signature and the that the gentleman's face matched the picture. I told him to give me a second and quickly went back inside. Once inside, I questioned the poll workers as to why this man had been denied the right to vote. The poll worker immediately seemed annoyed that I was asking and said, "The gentleman needs to have a valid address and the passport doesn't have one" as he went back to his paperwork. I then proceeded to educate the poll worker and stated that a passport was a legally acceptable form of identification to vote. The second poll worker, an older female, stepped in and said, "We asked the gentleman to return with a drivers license and when he does so, he will be permitted to vote, otherwise, he can't."
The polls were now closing in 45 minutes, and if you've ever been to Miami, you know that rush-hour traffic in this city is something to be avoided like the plague. I didn't think he would be been able to make it back in time or even come back at all. I asked to speak to the supervisor. The visibly annoyed male poll worker called his supervisor over. A bubbly and petite, middle aged woman comes over. I explained to her that the gentleman standing at the entrance is being prevented from voting. She told me, in her most reassuring voice, that the man would be able to vote, but only if he provided a drivers license, and that she couldn't except his U.S. Passport as a means of identification. I told her that she was wrong. The law clearly states that a passport is allowed to be used when voting. I pulled out my iPhone in an attempt to quickly show her the law by doing a simple Google search.
She responded apathetically, "I will have to call the elections department to get clarification on this." I pressed the subject further, more adamant than ever, telling her that a passport is allowable, and what she was doing was clearly illegal. She went back to her poll workers and consulted with them. It appeared to me that she was looking at either her phone or something in her hand. After a few moments of consultation and speaking quietly, she relented and returned with her verdict; "Fine, we'll allow him to vote."
The gentleman walked up to me, with a beaming smile on his face and said, "Thank you for protecting my right to vote."
Had I just stopped voter suppression? I left the polling booth feeling good but as I was approaching my home, the full calamity of what actually happened hit me. How could they have been giving him such wrong directions? How could three different people, designated as poll workers by the county, be giving such false information? Was this a microcosm of what was happening in many parts of the country? Determined to expose what I had just experienced, I returned to the polling station and videotaped my interaction with the two poll workers and the supervisor.
The supervisor seemed dumbfounded when I approached her, especially when I asked her point-blank why the young male had been prevented from originally voting. She did not know how to react and put her hands up as if to say "I don't know how to respond." She then told me that I would have to talk to the poll workers who had dealt with the man, as if capitulating her duties as the supervisor. As I walked away, she exclaimed that "It's been a long day" - a poor excuse as to why he was originally denied. The poll worker that had denied the voter his right to vote seemed visibly miffed that I had the audacity to question their tactics. At first, he denied knowing who I was talking about, but then, as if remembering a fond, old memory, it came back to him. He deflected my questions though, and all he could really say for himself was that the gentleman "had voted". Finally, he chalked up the mistake to "clerical error" - whatever that means.
When I proceeded to question a poll worker who was standing by the entrance, I was asked to leave because I was "intimidating voters." I left peacefully and without speaking to anybody else.
How many other people were denied the right to vote at this Miami-Dade County polling station and at polling stations across the nation on false, discriminatory or intimidating pretenses? How could the very people who are appointed to be in charge of such an important national election be so blatantly ill-informed, careless, or worse, nefarious? Cases like these were reported elsewhere. Charlie Crist, Democratic candidate who was vying for the Florida governorship, filed an emergency request to extend voting hours in Broward County after systematic failures were reported. Confusion, ballot machines not working and mechanical errors plagued several polling stations in Broward County. These issues made it difficult for some people to vote, and caused others to give up and just go home without voting. A judge ultimately rejected this emergency request and all polls closed at 7pm. The Gaily Grind was the first to break this story with an op-ed piece I wrote for them. A few hours later, PoliticusUSA ran the story in hopes of bringing light to this issue.
Hillary Clinton said it best when she exclaimed that, "Voting is the most precious right of every citizen, and we have a moral obligation to ensure the integrity of our voting process."
The integrity of our nations voting process must never be compromised, but while we all talk about it, another persons right to vote is slowly diminished and snuffed out. That is why we must collectively stand together and say, "This injustice ends with me, with you, with all of us." The power to vote is our single greatest asset in order to overcome those who would otherwise diminish and tarnish it.