A little over a month to go until Election Day, and I’m happy to know I’m not the only one out here still worried about the voting process. Maybe we’re all paranoid, but then you know what they say: If you’re not paranoid, that just means you don’t know that they really are out to get you.
Anyway, you may recall a recent column I wrote about a rather troubling experience my wife and I had while attempting to vote in the last election. I was able to cast my vote without a problem, but my wife, who was born and raised in Detroit and has never missed a chance to vote in more than 30 years, suddenly discovered that her name was not on the list of voters at our listed polling station — even though elections officials had mailed her a voter registration card to our current address. More recently, I wrote that I was fortunate enough to be contacted by both the legal counsel for the Michigan Democratic Party as well as the Department of Elections right here in Detroit, and both have demonstrated an admirable willingness to do whatever they can to find out what went wrong in our particular situation so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to anyone else in November.
Somehow, I kind of think my wife’s name will be back on the voter registration list come November and we won’t have a problem, which is great for us. That’s one vote I feel confident will be counted. Hooray. But what about your vote?
I’ve already confessed to being paranoid, so I might as well also confess that I am trying very hard to strike fear and terror into the hearts of all registered Michigan voters everywhere who happen to be Democrats, and especially all those registered Michigan voters who happen to be African-American. But black folks most definitely are not the only ones nervous about November. One e-mail that was forwarded to me from my editor was from a guy named Tom Kline who has been trying to put together a coalition here in Detroit and southeast Michigan specifically to make sure that nobody who wants to cast a vote this election will face any unnecessary hurdles or obstacles. Kline, who represents a grassroots organization called Voter Defense, has sent out a mass e-mail to just about every organization he figured ought to be as concerned as he is about the importance of protecting the vote. This is some of what he had to say:
“About two and a half weeks ago we of Voter Defense sent out an Emergency Call about threats to voting rights in the coming election. Now is the time to take action. We need to form a Detroit Area/S.E. Michigan coalition to organize around this issue.
“Let’s get a coalition together. Get back to us and let us know what would be a good timetable for setting up a meeting. Please take this seriously. Spread the word and resolve to be part of a coalition. We need to make sure that what happened in Florida in 2000 does not happen again, and this time all over the country and worse potentially. Don’t let the right wing fanatics, the fascistic elements around the Republican Party, take control of the streets and the polling places at election time.”
I decided to call Kline and see how the coalition was shaping up.
“To be honest, there haven’t been many responses,” he said. “Not even from some of the organizations I was sure would be interested.”
Kline said he figures some of the reason might be that those he contacted don’t know who he is and therefore don’t know whether to take him seriously or just to write him off as a possible crackpot. As much as he wants the coalition to succeed, he said he understands the hesitancy to a degree — but wants everyone to know that he is as serious and as dedicated as they come.
“We’re gonna keep trying right down to the wire,” he said.
When asked to offer a description of himself, Kline describes himself simply as someone who has been an activist of one form or another since he realized he was a socialist in high school, and who has never outgrown that activist spirit. He is 52 years old and works at a bookstore, having worked at construction and other blue-collar jobs in the past. He says there are about 15 people in his group, and that he’s gotten support from the Michigan Green Party, the Detroit Socialist Party and Workers Action. “I’m just a citizen that’s concerned about all this stuff, that’s all,” he said.
More important than who Kline is, is what he fears may be shaping up in November, and indeed there have been reports of voter intimidation happening all over again in Florida. New York Times columnist Bob Herbert has addressed the issue several times, although, unfortunately, he has been one of the few nationally recognized voices to do so.
Kline is concerned that what happened in Florida in 2000 could happen right here, and admits that the disturbing election year irregularities of four years ago are what prompted him to want to take action this time around. Although he recognizes that every polling place screwup cannot possibly be regarded as part of a well-orchestrated Republican plot to steal the election — especially since local elections officials in many Michigan locales are, in fact, Democrats — Kline figures it’s better to be safe than sorry, and without vigilance and determination we will most likely be sorry.
To that end, Kline is trying to get the word out about a movie that details what went wrong in Florida in 2000 called Unprecedented. (It’s “a well-timed cautionary tale,” as a Seattle Times reviewer put it.) An organization called the Michigan Emergency Committee Against War and Injustice will sponsor a showing of the movie at the Adamany Undergraduate Library at Wayne State University on Wednesday, Sept. 29, at 7 p.m.
As I’ve said before, you need to fight for your right to vote. A Web site called ElectionProtection.org, which is affiliated with the liberal People for the American Way, has already identified Michigan as a “high risk” state for voting rights violations this November. It’s up to you whether or not to listen to the alarm, but at least do some research to find out what’s going on before stepping out into traffic with blinders on. That’s all organizations like Voter Defense are trying to do: to encourage people to be informed and to be aware — which is why grassroots activism is so important, especially at a time like this.
You’ve got to fight for your right to vote.Keith A. Owens is a Detroit writer, editor and musician. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org