How COVID-19 is a voter suppression tool

In the U.S. we the people should be able to keep our politicians’ power in check through popular vote. Unfortunately, this is not the case. Voter suppression comes in many forms, and the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted voting struggles. 

This upcoming election will be the first time I vote. I have longed for this day since I learned that vulnerable members in the community such as undocumented citizens cannot vote. My vote is dedicated to those who cannot vote themselves. I will be voting for public officials who align with my beliefs not only politically but also morally. 

CHAOS IN THE DAIRY STATE: Residents of Wisconsin showed a clear trend of higher infection rates after the primary elections. Graphic by Brittany Lopez.

The pandemic has highlighted the struggles and loopholes within our systems. Whether it’s the structure of our current criminal justice or health care access, I can confidently call out former and current politicians for failing to do enough for our country. They continue to deny many Americans the pursuit of happiness. 

Politicians like Gov. Brian Kemp and President Trump are using the pandemic as a strategy to promote voter suppression. Their inaction and failure to contain the virus has resulted in making the simple act of voting a health risk. 

This summer President Trump criticized mail-in ballots even though they would help limit the surge in COVID-19 cases. Attorney General William Barr suggested that mail-in ballots are fraudulent, without proof. Meanwhile, Gov. Kemp sued Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms to prevent the Atlanta mask mandate. The mask mandate limits the spread of infection of COVID-19. In late summer Gov. Kemp dropped his lawsuit claiming that both parties couldn’t find common ground. 

The state of Wisconsin faced a similarly frustrating situation in April when they held their primary. Democratic Gov. Tony Evers wanted to delay in-person voting for his state’s primaries. Republican state legislators challenged the governor’s decision, leading to Wisconsin’s right-leaning Supreme Court to overturn Evers’ executive order, allowing the primaries to proceed as scheduled on April 7.

As of Oct. 19, Wisconsin has 173,891 confirmed COVID-19 cases. I believe this would not be the case if leaders would have taken the pandemic more seriously, including planning to secure the safety of voters during the election. Voters were given an ultimatum: choose between their right to vote or their lives and potentially their families’ health. 

Not only am I a first-time voter in this election, but I will also get to see behind the scenes by volunteering as a poll worker. Poll workers will check voters in and make sure the voting machines are working properly. They are also responsible for monitoring campaign activity inside the polling area, and we also will enforce social distancing and cleaning measures to keep polling places safe. 

Studies show that poll workers are usually older individuals, but because of their higher frequency of risk factors—making illness or death due to COVID-19 more likely—many of them will not be working polling places in the coming weeks. This poll worker shortage could have been prevented if the pandemic had been taken more seriously by all leaders, including the governor and the president. I am a poll worker because young healthy volunteers are needed now more than ever. I do worry about contracting the virus, but I would rather take that chance than have someone who is immunocompromised take the risk. The Athens-Clarke County Board of Elections has also given us protective gear and offered free COVID-19 testing, so I feel supported. 

However, I’m still upset at how the fairness of our elections is being jeopardized. I did not expect to cast my first vote under these circumstances. We are in a national crisis, and all Americans should be angry regardless of their political party. According to the Georgia Secretary of State, last year Georgia had 322,000 new active voters planning to vote in the upcoming presidential election. More than ever, we need young people to get out and vote. 

I think many young voters are vocal about issues and understand the need for change, but still they take no action. In the 2016 presidential election, only 50.8% of young adults from age 18 to 24 registered to vote, and only 39.4% of young adults actually voted. If we are angry and unsatisfied about how our communities look then let’s do something about it by voting. If you’re old enough, vote and have your voice heard. Just stay 6 feet away from other voters.

Brittany Lopez

Brittany Lopez is a senior Co-Editor in Chief for BluePrints Magazine She has attended both the Georgia Scholastic Press Association and the Southern Interscholastic Press Association. Lopez is interested in English, Journalism, and Social Work. She hopes to become a better writer, meet new people, and create a more efficient publication this year.