To the Editor:
Voter disenfranchisement is real in this country, as we saw in Arizona’s March 22nd presidential primary election, where tens of thousands of voters — particularly in non-white and working class communities — were denied the right to cast ballots that counted. We’ve seen this dynamic grow since 2013, when the Supreme Court essentially gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act — with dire consequences for young people, the elderly, the poor and people of color.
Voter disenfranchisement remains an issue right here at home in Chicago, which has a long and notorious history of suppressing, steering and outright fabricating election results. In the 26th District race, in my own home precinct, judges handed me the wrong ballot for my own race for State Representative — and when I complained, essentially showed me the door despite the presence of reporters!
We heard this complaint repeatedly on primary election day not just in our district but across the city, with numerous complaints about incorrect ballots filed with the Chicago Board of Elections. The Board has new leadership, yet serious problems persist in polling places — including failing to put the correct ballot in voters’ hands.
The problem was particularly acute in “split” precincts — roughly a third of the precincts in Chicago and fully 40 percent in the 26th District. Voters in the same ‘split’ precinct may in fact be assigned to different districts — in part a legacy of the endless gerrymandering of legislative boundaries for our wards, our state legislative and our congressional districts. If you steer a vote to the wrong race, you undercut the number of legitimate votes for a particular candidate — and you can even conceivably change the outcome of an election.
Why care? Because our vote is essentially the only voice we’re allowed as citizens to determine who will speak for us in the halls of government power. Rob us of that right to democratically choose who represents us, and you’ve undermined the very backbone of our democracy.
People died for the right to vote, yet this fundamental right is under attack across the nation, with political elites working in states from Florida to Texas to deny people the right to vote.
We’ve got to do better in Chicago. Getting the wrong ballot is just as bad as getting no ballot, or seeing that ballot go uncounted — or being turned away at the polls — because in each of these scenarios people are being denied the right to elect their representation.
There was some good news for local voters on March 15 — including a heartening uptick in turnout, with more than 11,000 voters in my race alone casting ballots to support a platform built on a commitment to the retirement security of our seniors, quality neighborhood public schools for our kids, and accountability to working families. That’s a powerful testament to committed, issues-based grassroots organizing that lives well beyond Election Day.
Yet as activists, organizers and engaged residents, we must add a critical issue to our list of concerns: fair and transparent elections — and the right of every registered voter to cast a ballot for the candidate of their choice.