One year ago today I was standing in Wenceslas Square in Prague celebrating with thousands of others, the 30th anniversary of The Velvet Revolution. On November 17, 1989 a non-violent revolution began in what was then Czechoslovakia. It lasted until December 29th and it brought about the end of Soviet controlled Authoritarian rule in that country. November 17th is now celebrated as Independence Day in the Czech Republic.
Dear Readers: Democracies, like Relationships, Do Not Run on Autopilot- they must be protected, cared for, and worked at to maintain. They can be chipped away and eroded over time unless we are vigilant and fight for their survival. Study your history and you will learn that no empire, no government, has lasted forever. None are guaranteed.
Voter suppression isn’t new. It’s been around since before Jim Crow Laws. It has taken on many shapes and sizes like poll taxes, literary tests, intimidation, and physical attacks. Laws like the Voting Rights Act of 1965 did away with some of these forms, but where old ones died, new ones were invented. Today, many are disguised as protection against voter fraud and some forms of voter suppression have never died, like intimidation by threat or force. But I recently discovered that it’s one thing to read about voter suppression, and quite another to witness how it unfolds first hand.
As most of you know, the Covid-19 Pandemic hs delayed my move to Prague. Since being temporarily grounded I have been finding ways to keep mentally active and to otherwise use my time in limbo productively.
When my county sent out an appeal for election workers a few months ago, I saw an opportunity to challenge myself with a new learning experience, and, to have a hands on participatory part in the most important election of my lifetime.
After testing and training I was selected to work as a “laptop operator” at one of the 9 “one stop” early voting locations in my county which ran for a period of 17 days. My job was to process voters in the data base and to print their paper ballots. Of course I also had to deal with updates, inactive voters, absentee ballots, and sometimes simply explaining to people how to mark the ballot. But my favorite part of the job was registering first time voters who could then immediately cast their ballot.
Living in a University town, as you might imagine, most of the voters I registered were young college students. Some were quiet and shy, others excited or nervous, all were polite and respectful. What you might not imagine is how complicated the process was to get them registered. The most difficult to process were those students who lived off campus and were from other counties and states. Besides a photo I.D. (school I.D.’s do not include addresses) they had to produce a document, from an approved list, that showed their current name and address together in our county. The state accepts utility bills, bank statements, pay stubs and government issued documents.
No student that I worked with had a utility bill in their name, only their parents’ name. Because they’re students they don’t work, so no pay stubs. They bank on-line and their accounts show their home-town address- as did every other acceptable government issued document like car registrations and passports. They don’t pay property tax or yet file taxes with the IRS so no luck there.