Proof: What We Are Doing Makes a Difference
On Sunday evening, more than 120 activists gathered to hear what really happened on the ground over Election Week. The meeting brought to life the reality of voter suppression and the moving stories of Massachusetts volunteers who braved COVID to protect human rights and safety.
Jessica Stokes and five other Massachusetts volunteers went to Gwinnett County in Georgia as part of the Voter Protection effort for Carolyn Bourdeaux’s congressional campaign. After working as a poll watcher on Election Day, Jessica spent the rest of the week, day and night, at the Election Commission as a Democratic Party Monitor. She watched, asked questions, and reported back to the Democratic campaigns.
Jessica was shocked by the lack of transparency and the need to proactively interrogate the process. For example, even by Friday, election officials held off reporting 5K counted mail-in ballots.
In another case, approximately 14K mail-in ballots required manual review to determine voter intent. “Most often it was really clear: One ballot had Biden’s circle clearly filled in, but it had a big X through Trump’s name,” Jessica recalled.
“As the days went on, Trumpers became more and more agitated when it looked like he might lose. We took careful notes of their complaints and evidence supporting them, as documentation for potential lawsuits. You really need to be in the room where it happens.”
Dean Cycon founded and currently runs Dean’s Beans Organic Coffee Company. Nevertheless, he found his previous occupation as a lawyer was a valuable asset in the town of Douglas (coincidently in Coffee County) on the Alabama/Florida border of Georgia.
He was horrified by the legal, illegal, and informal instances of voter suppression he saw. Coffee County had only one vote-by-mail drop box; it was in a hidden corner of the front hall of the county offices. Many people hadn’t received the absentee ballots they requested. The online records didn’t include the names of many others who had actually returned their ballots. Local organizers were harassed and arrested.
As an inside poll watcher, Dean was told to pick up his badge at 6 am on November 3. When he checked the Thursday before, he found he wasn’t even on the list. In fact, the office claimed that the town didn’t use poll watchers! After hurried conversations with the Democratic Party, Dean got his badge.
When he arrived at the polling place on Tuesday, none of the poll workers, police, and observers wore masks. Most of the staff were teens with no election and little life experience.
Someone showed him to a remote chair and said he had to sit there all day. This was the first of several times during the day that he had to show the staff the printed regulations. In this case, they read the passage and agreed he had the right to see, hear, and move about all open areas.
As Dean watched, countless voters were turned away for lacking acceptable ID. Again, he presented the regulations. Even though they’d ‘never done it this way before,’ the staff offered provisional ballots from then on.
Dean was pleased with the whole experience. “Because I was quiet, respectful, and informed, the poll workers cooperated and even thanked me at the end of the day.”
After 40 years in Massachusetts, Joanne Sunshower moved back to Kansas to be with her aging mother. She saw that Republicans dominate — business/moderate, Libertarians, and Trumpers – across the state.
Joanne volunteered in the Democratic office and participated in both Kansas and Florida phone banks. At the same time, she chose to work intensely with the Johnson County Commissioner race, supporting Shirley Allenbrand, a moderate Republican running against incumbent Mike Brown.
During the campaign, Brown used Facebook and interviews as platforms to contradict COVID safety mandates (masks, social distancing, etc.) from the governor, health director, and fellow commissioners. Brown went further, warning people to buy firearms to prepare for the coming leftist war.
“I learned must-have techniques for successful local campaigning,” recounted Joanne. “And I got to put those skills to work when I was asked to speak at a commissioner’s meeting, where anti-maskers were gathered outside waving signs like, ‘I will defend my God-given Liberties!’”
“I was pleased that Allenbrand won, 52%-47%,” Joanne continued. “Unfortunately, Brown now plans to run for the Chairperson seat in two years.”
Kim Weeter and Brenda Davies drove down to North Carolina primarily to knock on doors but also to observe the polls. The two women worked with voters to cure their rejected absentee ballots on their front steps, with the support of online apps and the voter protection hotline.They went on to be outside poll observers at the polls on Election Day, documenting and calling the hotline to report issues.
Spurred by her belief in social justice and personal agency, Kim went down so she would have ‘no November regrets’. “The best way I could help protect these votes was through the power of connecting with voters in person,” Kim explained.
“We were able to help people vote early and develop other strategies for making sure their vote would be accepted and count.” At one point, because there was no other way to secure a ride to the polls (and despite COVID), Kim herself drove an elderly voter to a curbside voting site to ensure he could cast his ballot.
Brenda chose to risk her personal safety because voter suppression in NC was so bad. “Months of messaging about fraud had built a wall of doubt and hurdles to vote by mail.” Brenda felt successful, “By talking to people face to face, I was able to build trust and walk voters through the process.”
Brenda was really worried about the possibility of violence, especially as a poll observer. While there was no physical danger, voter suppression was rampant.
“Voters were turned away without the option of using a provisional ballot. We helped these individuals advocate for themselves, and many went back in.” She continued, “Half an hour before the polls closed, the workers turned off the parking lot lights, removed signage, and began closing up. We insisted they keep the polls open.”
Eight minutes before closing time, a young woman came out disappointed: It was her first time voting and she didn’t have the right ID. “We all worked together, suggesting she look through her car for proof of address, to no avail. With just two minutes to spare, we explained her right to vote, even without an ID … she entered and cast her provisional ballot.”
Dan Luker and Bob Master faced violence head on. These Vietnam Vets served as peacekeepers in Dearborn and Detroit, Michigan. Their goals were to stop conflicts immediately before they could escalate and to defend the election process. As Bob explained, “We just want to see no one arrested, no violence, no one hurt.”
In both cities, crowds of alt-right groups, armed right-wing militia, and white supremacists threatened to break into the building to stop the absentee ballot count. Right next to them, throngs of progressive liberals, Blacks, and Muslims urged the ballot count to continue.
Bob and Dan walked among these confrontational groups, supporting the right to peaceful protest. “It helped that we were nonpartisan and vets,” said Bob. “The right wingers respected our military experience.” “Seven or eight times we were able to de-escalate situations before people came to blows,” recalls Dan.
“Individuals were willing to ‘bring it down’ when we asked, ” Dan recalled. “In one case, friends convinced a hotheaded protester to walk away. In another, three Blacks and three Whites ended up agreeing on problems — the need infrastructure, jobs, and healthcare — and fist bumped, saying ‘We’ve got to figure out this out.’”