Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise
Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Athletes' calls for voting reform were justified. Do better, America

Voters line up at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Voters line up at Madison Square Garden in New York.
Image: (Getty Images)

My Twitter feed today is filled with photos, videos, and reactions to super-duper long lines on the first day of early voting in my native New York and I am just overwhelmed with …

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Rage.

Be honest — you expected me to say hope and pride and patriotism and stuff. Nope. I’m infuriated.

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Because for all of the attention that voting reform has received in 2020, due in part to athletes like LeBron James and Chris Paul and the entire Milwaukee Bucks team stepping up and putting their imprimatur on it, we’re still no-fucking-where in this country on fair and equitable voting.

We’ve seen this all over the country as early voting kicks off — hordes of voters flocking to make their voices heard. Today that train rolled into the “ghost town” once known as “the city that never sleeps,” and just look at all these Casper the Friendly G’fuck Y’self New Yorkers throwing up a collective middle finger to the dotard who insulted them the other night at the debate:

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Okay, at least some of them are having fun:

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But here’s the coup de grâce tweet … the straw that broke this camel’s back:

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Look at that! This is to vote at the 20,000-seat Madison Square Garden and the line still wraps around two city blocks.

Yes, okay, fine … it is inspiring that so many folx are answering the call of Rep. John Lewis’ last words:

Ordinary people with extraordinary vision can redeem the soul of America by getting in what I call good trouble, necessary trouble. Voting and participating in the democratic process are key. The vote is the most powerful nonviolent change agent you have in a democratic society. You must use it because it is not guaranteed. You can lose it.

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But his message is terrifying … and true! “You can lose it.” Just think about that. This Atlantic piece mimics my (correct) view — that voting is a right, secured five times by amendments in that little thing called the Constitution:

Which constitutional right is the most important? You might answer “freedom of speech” or “free exercise” of religion… But which right appears most often in the Constitution’s text? It’s “the right to vote.”

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No, the Founders didn’t see fit to give it to us, but amendments to the living, breathing document made by Americans since have recognized and affirmed that right time and time again. Rights by their very nature are granted inherently. Well, they should be. They shouldn’t have to be chased down with Wile E. Coyote booby traps scattered along the way.

And here’s how the right to vote should work: When you turn 18, you are automatically enrolled (currently only the case in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and that number was zero as recently as 2014). That registration shouldn’t be tied to a state’s DMV, but any governmental agency.

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Here’s what should happen after that: You keep that right until you take your dying breath. You can vote in any and every election (yes, please do that) or not vote for 30 years until a candidate comes along who you just have to vote for (don’t do that), and when you show up your name is still there on the voter roll. If you move to a new state, the database is updated. You don’t need to do anything.

Did you just roll your eyes at me?! I know it sounds pie-in-the-sky, but that’s how it should work. And you know what else? Early voting should be expanded, vote by mail should be universally offered, and any form of a poll tax (looking at you, Florida) needs to be eliminated.

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Oh, you don’t think we have those anymore. One could argue having to spend hours of precious time in line to vote is a form of a poll tax. More concretely, voters in 33 states have to provide their own postage on a mail-in ballot.That is a poll tax, friends. And it leads to potential disenfranchisement in a very willy-nilly manner. I just returned my ballot in Pennsylvania and paid nothing. New Yorkers have to buy a stamp, or two (dead serious, though what no one tells you is the postal service is supposed to deliver it without postage anyway), to return their general election ballot even though they didn’t four months ago in the primary. That’s SOP: Shitty Operating Procedure.

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For months, athletes have moved voting rights reforms front and center in their calls for racial justice. That includes urging their teams and leagues to offer up arenas and stadiums as voter registration and polling sites. And guess what? Those large gathering spaces are still overwhelmed.

Early voting at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Early voting at the State Farm Arena in Atlanta.
Image: (Getty Images)
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More funding, more machines, more poll workers and more training are needed. Everywhere.

Gee, it’s too bad we didn’t have months to work on that for this election.

The above clusterfuckery doesn’t even mention the actual racist disenfranchisement wagon rolling along unchecked in states like Wisconsin, which not only worries that a sausage mascot may tip the scales to Joe Biden, but does things like cancel arena voting just weeks before an election in Milwaukee (39 percent Black), but thinks it’s peachy-keen in Green Bay (4 percent Black).

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When those long lines appear, mouthbreathing critics like to pull out the ol’, “Well why don’t they just come back another day?” bit. Because... lives?! Kids? Multiple jobs? Plain old patriotic excitement? Does anyone tell you how and when to exercise your right to poop? No. So if this is the day they need to go vote and it’s crowded with others in the same boat, they all get penalized.

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Heckuva system you got there, America, even in your bluest state.

It wouldn’t be a shame at all if something happened to it.

Vote, so we have a better chance at something good finally happening to it.

Deputy Editor, Deadspin. Author, "One Lucky Fan: From Bleachers to Box Seats, Chasing the Ultimate Sports Dream to Visit All 123 MLB, NBA, NFL & NHL Teams." Earthwalker.

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