I Got Purged, Y’all

Registering to vote seems easy, right? This isn’t the 60s anymore. Gone are the poll taxes and grandfather clauses that hemmed up our people. Now, you just fill out a form and — boom! Enfranchised! And staying registered should be even easier. Once you’re on there, it’s kind of a set it and forget it thing.

But…what if that wasn’t the case? Story time!

That’s me on the left, thinking I can still vote, totally unaware of what’s about to happen to me.

I live in Georgia. Last year, I watched in horror as a whole election was stolen. And this year, the new Secretary of State has vowed to purge hundreds of thousands of people from the voter rolls, presumably to avoid having to administer elections at all. If ain’t nobody voting, the job (of stealing elections and minimizing democracy) just got a lot easier. It might sound like a level of shenanigans that is unprecedented. But this kind of thing happens all over the country. It’s probably happening where you are right now.

And this isn’t even the first time I’ve had an issue with registering to vote. I moved to Atlanta from Brooklyn in August 2017. One of the first things I did when I got here was register to vote. I called up the trusty old Secretary of State website, filled out my form, printed it out, found a stamp and mailed it off to the office just like the form said I should. I double checked the spelling on the address just to be sure. Nothing can stop me, I’m all the way up!

Not so fast, friend.

Months later, I found my self refreshing my registration on the Secretary of State website trying to see where my brand new voting precinct was located. But guess what? I wasn’t there. According to the state of Georgia, I was still unregistered.

So, I picked up the phone and called the Fulton County Registrar’s office to ask about my registration. I was told that sending my registration form to the main Secretary of State office for processing was a big mistake. The process could take months and months given the size of the state and the number of registrations they had to sift through. The person I spoke with on the phone said a much easier process was for me to send my registration directly to the county office. He gave me an email address and a link and assured me it would all be resolved quickly.

But– was that voter suppression??

The reality is, It doesn’t have to be as startling and direct as someone physically blocking your entry to a polling place or being forcibly removed from a building or a bus. (Although that also happens all the time!)

Voter suppression looks like this too.

And what we’re facing here in Georgia right now is also voter suppression. Oh, and it’s happening to me again.

Anybody that knows me knows that I love voting. I work in politics. I’m active in my community. I help to register other people to vote when I can. And I even use my voter registration card as a bookmark.

Just last week, I decided to do my due diligence and check my voter registration status. I logged onto the Secretary of State’s website and typed in my information waiting for the familiar page to show up with all of my details. Instead, I saw this —

I received absolutely no notice of this purge. Zero. I had no idea that my registration was even remotely in jeopardy. And I am not alone. This kind of thing happens every day to folks. The system was, in fact, designed to operate in silence like this. This is what voter suppression looks like.

It looks like “random” purges of voter rolls, indecipherable and unachievable voter ID requirements, not enough voting machines, voting machines that don’t work, polling place closures, excessive wait times, and a plethora of other small and meaningful ways that folks are discouraged from full participation in the process.

So, wait– are you registered to vote? Ahem, are you sure sure? Did you recently move or have a change in status? Hell, it only takes a second to check and trust me — it’s worth it. And if you’re not registered, get registered. And help other folks get registered too.

Don’t worry, friends. The good people at the New Georgia Project helped me re-register last week at work. So, I’ll just be sitting here waiting patiently for my voter registration to arrive in the mail…again.

I’m not sure if y’all heard, but 2020 is kind of a big deal. Lots of things are on the table, our communities are in crisis, and I, for one, don’t want to be left out of the conversation.

Wish me luck!

Aimée Castenell is the the Director of Communications for the New Georgia Project and the Working Families Party’s Southeast Region Communications Director. She has over 15 years of experience in digital strategy and change communications, with a focus on human rights, racial justice, voter engagement among communities of color, and economic justice. Previous roles have found Aimée in strategic leadership at the U.S. Human Rights Network, Color Of Change, the Center for Popular Democracy, OUR Walmart, None on Record, and strategy firms Fission Strategy and Do Big Things. She is also the co-creator of WeBuiltThis.org, a project dedicated to helping Black millennials use voting as a tool to combat state violence. Aimée is an executive board member of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration, an alum of the ReFrame Mentorship, a mentor and advisor in the Kairos Fellowship for digital organizers, a trainer in WFP’s Women Run Campaigns program, and an instructor in the 2019 Movement School. She holds an M.A. in Activism and Social Change from the University of Leeds and a B.A. in Anthropology from Smith College. Originally from New Orleans, Louisiana, Aimée currently calls Atlanta, GA home. Follow her on Twitter at @aimeeorleans.

This piece originally appeared on Aimée’s Medium blog on December 14, 2019.

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