Voter suppression: In the eye of the beholder

The convenient thing about being a proponent of "systemic racism" in America is having the preternatural ability to ferret out systemic racism without the bother of presenting any purported evidence.  Incontrovertible evidence is, according to them, everywhere for those not too blind to see.    

An article on the Nov. 7 commentary page of the Philadelphia Inquirer illustrates my point.  "Being a poll observer in West Philly made me really angry.  Here's why" was written by Julie Berger, a senior research coordinator at the University of Pennsylvania's Graduate School of Education, "focusing on university outreach to and partnership with Philadelphia schools and community organizations" (which foretells much of what follows). 

Ms. Berger spent Election Day as a poll-observer in minority-majority West Philadelphia.  She writes that after many conversations with confused and frustrated voters, she understands that our voting system makes it incredibly hard to exercise our right to vote.  She understands too that while black people have long known about systemic obstacles to voting, as a white woman (undoubtedly privileged), she has been largely sheltered from those obstacles.  This is why she joined the Pennsylvania Democrats' Voter Protection Team as a poll-observer in a majority black precinct.

Not surprisingly, she observed voter suppression Nov. 3 on a grand scale.

An "alarming" number of the nearly all black 500 voters she encountered experienced "obstacles."

Many arrived after being "pinged around" different polling places because of confusion about where they were registered to vote.  One woman waited in line over an hour at the wrong site before being told there would be another hour wait at Berger's site.  Exasperated, she was about to leave for work without voting before Berger, to her credit, pushed for her to fill out a provisional ballot. 

Shockingly, one man's name wasn't in the polling book.  More suppression.

Obstacles were everywhere.  Once voters "made it through the gauntlet," they were sent to a machine "that is complex" and requires loading a paper "just so," and that had "four dense questions that left many befuddled." 

I once served as a poll-watcher in my township.

Trust me when I say that befuddlement about the when, where, and how of voting is not confined to majority black precincts in West Philadelphia.  Voter confusion on Election Day, especially presidential election days, knows no bounds.

Indeed, one of the functions of poll-observers is to help the befuddled navigate territory many of them visit but once every four years.

The truth is that most of these purported "obstacles" are easily remedied by a little pre–Election Day homework — reading sample ballots, verifying the proper polling place, checking paperwork, voting early if work is an issue, for example.  Berger even admits to being confused at times when voting in person. 

She asserts that voter suppression can take blatant forms, but its more insidious forms can be hard to see for those, like her, who have always exercised their voting rights easily: a labyrinth of registration forms and deadlines, a hard-to-read ballot, "complex" voting machines, mismatched polling books. 

Like the man who sees every problem as a nail when the only tool he has is a hammer, Berger views the frustrations and challenges of modern living as endemic to blacks.  She can't or won't see that they are common to most people.

Her worldview through the single-vision lens of race blinds her to her own prejudices and preconceptions.

Tragically, with the best of intentions, she does blacks a grave disservice by portraying them as hapless victims of systemic oppression.

Image: Willivolt, Flickr.