Let’s not kid ourselves: Doug Jones won in Alabama’s special election on Tuesday, but the black vote was still suppressed.
Almost as soon as voting in, social media began buzzing with stories of intimidation, harassment, and misinformation. Driven by the anxiety of high stakes, reports ricocheted around Twitter and Facebook of claims ranging from a hostile police chief to misleading text messages referring voters to incorrect polling stations.
And while most spectators watched helplessly, biting their nails to the knuckle and rocking in the fetal position, civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama and The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law doggedly fought for each Alabamians right to vote. And in many instances, they won.
But for many Alabamians, their votes will remain uncast or uncounted, stripping them of their constitutional right without recourse in most cases. Even the most vigilant fighters of voter suppression have thrown in the towel, redirecting their efforts toward broader-scale fights over voter ID laws and gerrymandering.
“I think we’re going to be moving on with some of these problems in mind for the 2018 elections,” said ACLU of Alabama Executive Director Randall Marshall.
His office looked into reports of illegal activity throughout the day. In one instance that drew attention on social media, journalist and The Daily Beast contributor Ken Klippenstein live-tweeted that he saw three police officers enter a poling station in Montgomery.
Klippenstein wrote in his tweet, “NAACP official told me that in previous Alabama elections, police have checked voters for outstanding warrants at polling stations, which can deter people from voting.”
The ACLU of Alabama tweeted that they were on the case. And while they did not find three police officers like Klippenstein claimed, they found “a sheriff’s vehicle parked [at the voting station]and apparently a deputy sheriff inside,” Marshall said. After a conversation with the sheriff, the deputy and the car disappeared.
But even with their strong ground game, the ACLU plans on focusing their current efforts toward educational campaigns leading up to the next election, according to Marshall.
“A lot of what we do in this area has to do with ‘know your rights’ and cajoling the state to follow through on its legal obligations,” he said.
Like the ACLU, The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also had boots on the ground in Alabama. By just 3:24 PM on Tuesday, with over three and a half hours left to vote, the Lawyers’ Committee had received more than 235 calls to it’s voter hotline.
“By way of our Election Protection hotline, we received hundreds of calls from voters across the state of Alabama that make clear that much work remains to be done to improve access to the ballot box,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, in a press release.
In other elections, the Lawyers’ Committee has fought voter suppression even after the polls have closed. “In the past, we have had litigation,” said Jessica Brady, the Director of Strategic Communications and External Affairs of the Lawyers’ Committee.
“In particular, I’m thinking about New York City,” she said, citing an ongoing case against the city for purging over 126,000 voters in the November 2016 election—a move that disproportionately impacted Latino and other minority voters.
But even while acknowledging the issues in Tuesday’s special election, the Lawyers’ Committee is moving on with the ACLU. “While today we focused on ensuring that all voters were able to have their voices heard,” Clarke said, “tomorrow we turn to work that will help ensure that all voters enjoy equal access to the polls regardless of race.”
Groups like the ACLU and Lawyers’ Committee have played vital roles in protecting voting rights, but especially since the Supreme Court dismantled the Voting Rights Act in 2013, their jobs have become akin to a bandaid on a bullet hole. High turnout is not a solution to voter suppression. It may mask its impact (i.e. electoral defeat), but as long as large-scale disenfranchisement is carried out on multiple fronts—mass incarceration, gerrymandering, voter ID laws—the solutions must be equally multifaceted. And that means doing a lot more than just getting out the vote.
As for the would-be voters who were directed to the wrong polling station, or faced harassment over their form of identification, or couldn’t wait in-line for hours—regaining their trust is another issue altogether.