Posted by Guest on February 01, 2018 in Blog
By Mona Ahmed
To ensure voter rights for Americans from all walks of life, the National Commission for Voter Justice held its first Listening Session for the State of Michigan in Detroit on January 27th. Speakers included Ismael “Ish” Ahmed, Melanie McElroy, Dr. Kefentse Chike and Garlin Gilchrist.
Ahmed is an AAI board member who recently ran for the Michigan State Board of Education in 2016. He elaborated on the struggles he witnessed voters face during this election, and cited linguistic barriers, lack of transportation and financial instability among other issues that prevented minority and low-income voters from obtaining voter identification. Ahmed denounced requirements for voter ID at the ballot box and argued, “It is insulting to all the minority and low-income Michiganders when they are asked to jump through difficult hoops to simply exercise their civic duties. The justification for these hoops relies on a myth. There is no systematic problem for voter fraud in this country.“
McElroy listed common issues such as long lines and machine failures, which she observed at the polls when working to protect the vote with the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights. “Polling places themselves that either don’t open on time, have entrances that aren’t clearly marked or are hard to find. Some of them have been known to be inaccessible to elderly voters or anyone with a handicap or injury.”
She explained that poll workers are often unaware photo ID is not required to vote in Michigan. Although a voter must identify themselves prior to voting during the registration process, they are free to use any form of government ID. “This is a frequent source of confusion at the polls. Voters are either turned away for not having a driver’s license due to the misinformation of the poll worker or the voter or they are given a provisional ballot instead.” McElroy warns against using provisional ballots as they are not counted normally and in most cases will result in an invalid vote. She wants more Michigan voters to know they are allowed to sign an affidavit declaring their identity in order to receive a regular ballot.
Chike, a professor of African American studies at Wayne State University, emphasized Ahmed’s sentiments that voters who most frequently face barriers at the polls, are voters of color. He commends and urges the Commission to continue to engage in voter education activities.
Gilchrist, who ran for Detroit City Clerk in 2016 stated, “A system that we cannot trust is a system that is inherently unjust.” He recalls the voter experience during his primary election, stating many were asked to vote in places they had never gone to, were sent incomplete voting samples and were wrongfully restricted from voting without presenting a driver’s license. He questions how voters are supposed to retain faith in a system that doesn’t serve them.
Despite the many grievances described at the session, Ahmed asserted that in the face of adversity voter justice will prevail through the efforts of the Commission and others, “Where there is oppression, there is resistance and that’s what taking place in Michigan today.”
The Commission is scheduled to hold upcoming Listening Sessions in Texas, Oklahoma, Wisconsin and Arizona among many other locations. Follow their updates and schedule via Facebook/Twitter @NationalCVJ. The full livestream of the first Listening Session held in Detroit can be found here.
Mona Ahmed is a Winter 2018 intern at the Arab American Institute.