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Jim Crow is Alive & Well and Living on the Eastside of Indianapolis

Updated on November 22, 2011
Registered and legal, but can't vote at my precinct.
Registered and legal, but can't vote at my precinct. ...Related piece: please read:.

Jim Crow is indeed alive and well and living on the eastside of Indianapolis, currently disguised a Republican precinct worker.

In 2005, the state of Indiana passed a voter ID law, requiring voters to show ID - basically produce a driver's license - to vote. (Let's face it, if a person doesn't hold a driver's license, the chances that they'll possess a US passport or military ID are slim to none. The fourth option allowed under the law - in certain circumstances only - is a valid student ID from a publicly-funded Indiana college.

So, on election day I walked into my polling place, the Lutheran church at 21st & Franklin Road, waiting to vote for mayor. The septuagenarian clerks were taking their time signing voters in. One is good-naturedly questioning the man in front of me, who has produced a valid driver's license and whose corresponding name is listed on their rolls as an eligible voter. He's voted at this precinct before. But guess what? He's a black male. Looks like Steve Urkel's dad in fact, with some short dreadlocks and a goofy-happy demeanor. I shift from waiting impatiently to vote to being outraged, as I sense what is happening. The nice, friendly Republican clerk asks Papa Urkel if the address on his license is still correct and he says no, that he moved a mile and a half away last year. This man should be voting, but our erstwhile GOP precinct clerk knows all too well that a black person is almost certainly going to be voting Democratic, and she can't have that. She calls the "sheriff" over - the lead official at the polling place, a pear-shaped white guy who tells Urkel's dad that "We'll have to call to find out where you can vote." Complete bullshit. If his name is on the rolls at our precinct, any fool knows it won't be on the rolls anywhere else. That would be voter fraud and the precinct officials know it but pleasantly, with smiles and soothing tones, send this man on a goose chase to another precinct where "he may be able to vote," as the clerk now qualifies. I see Pops Urkel in the parking lot with his partner. She is white and guess what? She had voted at the same precinct earlier in the day, unasked about the address on her license, she tells me. I say to Urkel, "What a load of shit, man. You should have demanded to vote." He's smiling, a pleasant guy. His only mistake inside was being honest about having moved a few blocks away. "I might go to that other precinct, but we have to pick up our kids first." I check my phone and the time is 5:14 pm. In Indiana, the polls close at 6 p.m. and he has to go get his kids. Phantom precinct wild goose chase. He isn't voting.

* * *

The same clerk asked me if my address had changed. (An unkempt, surly white guy with long hair wearing a Butthole Surfers t-shirt also struck the GOP clerk as "non-Republican material," apparently.) I had also moved but I lied to them about it and I voted. The license ID as a requirement to vote is a 21st century version of the Poll Tax. Calmly, with smiles, and serenity, poll workers explain to the confused, frustrated potential voters that the good eggs at the "other precinct" will let them vote there. Not. Neither was this some rogue action by an egregiously partisan clerk, either. This law was designed to be "enforced" in this manner by its sponsors.

Typically, I don't have much use for either major party, but I absolutely abhor the Republican ethos. I'll give them credit where it's due, though - they play for keeps. They play to win at all costs, and they often do. The Democrats don't have it together quite as well.

Rock the Vote

When I was an undergraduate and a member of ISU's "Young Democrats Club," I disobeyed an order only to register voters who claimed to support Democratic candidates.My rationale was, anyone who wants to vote should vote and if the Democratic Party offer candidates and ideas that are worth a damn, they'll win and if not, they don't deserve to.

GOP in Indiana

The voter ID law was passed by a GOP-controlled assembly against loud Democratic opposition. The Republicans say the law is necessary to prevent fraud. The Democrats say it's designed to keep poor people - a traditional Democratic constituency - from voting. A local Indiana court struck down the law in 2008 as unconstitutional, but the Indiana State Supreme Court reversed that in 2010, allowing the law to stand. It's a fallacy to say that the government here wants us all to vote. There are so many facts that expose the hypocrisy beyond that claim. Holding elections on a work day, from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m.? Brilliant idea - very convenient to working/ parenting adults. How about geographically fixed polling places? If you're going to have voter ID required, why does it matter where we show up to vote? The onus on preventing voter fraud should never fall on the voter - as it does with this ID law - but instead on the government. This is how it works in Japan, Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. The government automatically registers people to vote - as citizens they are registered, no needless hoops. Elections are held on weekends generally. If not (as in UK, which holds elections on Thursdays), polls are open for a 24-hour span, from midnight to midnight, to allow even the busiest adult a voting window. Voting is predictably mechanized and uniform; technology is used as the means to prevent fraud. Here, elections aren't "federalized," meaning the US has no uniform standards regarding voting procedures including registration, which varies greatly from state to state. The Id law is just the most obviously pernicious final layer to prevent citizens from exercising their civic right. And this a key point: supporters of the voter ID law claimed that voting was a "privilege," apparently a privilege they feel is theirs to dole out. Voting isn't a privilege. It's an inherent right that should only be forfeited in the most severe of circumstances - say current incarceration or acute mental illness. Certainly not because one's address has changed since the last voting cycle or indeed, because they lack identification period.

It's Worked Before So Do It Again

In 2004, GOP supporters in Columbus, Ohio, and Las Vegas used the same tactic to help narrowly deliver their respective states for Bush over Kerry. It went like this: On official-looking state-sealed letterheads, a notice was circulated through poor black and Latino sections of each town that read in part, "Due to expected heavy voter turnout and in effort to avoid long waits at the polling place, it is suggested that voters follow the following guidelines: Republican voters should vote on Tuesday and Democratic voters should vote on Wednesday." The form was printed on high quality paper in color, signed, stamped, and looked very official. And they worked. A lot of people were snookered into not voting. Or at least into trying to vote a day after the election was over. Now you can say "stupid people shouldn't vote, and if they're gullible enough to be tricked out of their voting rights, then so be it." And I might counter with, "the right to vote is fundamental in this country, and no smug, pernicious tactics can be justified in suppressing it."

Ex-felons Need Not Vote

In fourteen states, mostly across the Republican South, convicted felons lose the right to vote for the rest of their lives. Even after they're released, paroled, have paid their debt to society, they can never, ever vote again. If Michael Vick, for example, had been convicted of gambling on dog fighting in Alabama, he could still be an NFL quarterback upon release from prison, but he could never again help decide his state and federal leaders.

Urkel's Dad

I hope Urkel's dad gets angry about the farce he endured between now and the next election. Voting isn't a shell game, and "winning ugly" isn't a sustainable way for either major party to perpetuate a functioning democracy. And if neither major party can be entrusted to run this deal above board, it's high time for a third option that doesn't resort to subverting democracy to achieve its aims.


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    • keithmitchell5 profile image

      keithmitchell5 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      I'll check out the Jena six. Was reading somewhere else tonight how driver's licenses "prevent fraud." People believe what they want to. Obviously, there are easier ways to ensure 'free & fair elections.' I'm not sure either major party wants that. Another call to action for a reasonable third option.

    • Laura McKinney profile image

      Laura McKinney 6 years ago

      Even though I know the world is filled with acts of selfish hate, greed, and institutionalized prejudice, I get upset and saddened with every story like these. On the political side we do need a viable third option. But,discrimination is alive and well. One does not have to make up a story. I was reminded of Jena six from 2006 (Jena High Schoool, Louisiana: Too much of a story to summarize). And the 2011 case of the 18 year old in Arkansas who was denied the right to be sole valedictorian on the basis of race and sued.

      Thank you KM for bringing more truth to light.

    • keithmitchell5 profile image

      keithmitchell5 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      Law PhD Lee: Thanks for reading, the compliment, and the support. I will definitely read your piece. PS- The scenario depicted is true. Others can believe what they want - I don't control perceptions, but when I write fiction, I'll call it that. I never liked "A Million Little Pieces"....:)

    • lawdoctorlee profile image

      Liza Treadwell Esq aka Liza Lugo JD 6 years ago from New York, NY

      This was a great Hub. And I believe it is true. Jim Crow is alive and well in Louisiana, specifically St. Bernard Parish, which continues to pass laws that violate the Fair Housing Act and are racially discriminatory.

      To SFA, let me say Jim Crow affected all aspects of life when it came to relations between Blacks and Whites. Whites could not marry outside their race in order to keep it pure. If they did, they were jailed for it (See Loving v. Virginia (1967). Also, whites could not sell their property to non-whites (See Buchanan v. Warley (1917).

      Recently, I wrote a Hub about these examples and my own personal experiences during an interracial marriage, entitled The Current State of Black America, in case you would like to read it.

      Great writing. Keep up the great work. I'm now a fan.

    • keithmitchell5 profile image

      keithmitchell5 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      Thank you. At heart, I really loathe two-party politics and the games that place the public as pawns rather than as constituents to be served. I wrote another piece - it's linked above @ right under "related hubs" - called "The GOP Abdication," which promotes a third choice. Without this, I just see more people opting out of this system at the very least and searching for more extreme solutions at the very most. Thanks for reading and commenting.

    • Sharon Raine profile image

      Sharon Raine 6 years ago from Central Arkansas

      Perhaps some of you who feel he is being one-sided missed Keith's Rock the Vote section where he wrote about the "Young Democrats Club," and disobeying an order to only register voters who claimed to support Democratic candidates. Sorry, but I don't see this article as being at all biased. Rather I see it as him stating his own experiences concerning this subject matter.

    • keithmitchell5 profile image

      keithmitchell5 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      Fair enough, MCl. I will definitely defer to you. Thanks for reading. KM

    • MCL profile image

      MCL 6 years ago from Indiana

      Enjoyed the article I just have to correct you on one unimportant thing - Carl was not Steve Urkel's dad. Urkel's dad was never seen. Urkel was the Winslow's annoying neighbor.

    • keithmitchell5 profile image

      keithmitchell5 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      Guilty as charged. When I left the polling place I was outraged and furious. Writing was the most productive and least violent reaction I could come up. What I saw was so pernicious and cynical that if my title goes over the top and thus gets more attention to the situation, then great. It is more a case "stolen democracy" than outright racism, agreed.

    • profile image

      SFA 6 years ago

      I think that your article is very sad and lots of issues need to be addressed. All voters who want to vote should be allowed to vote. However, I feel your title is inflammatory. You too were asked about your address. As I recall, Jim Crow laws weren't applied to both races.

    • keithmitchell5 profile image

      keithmitchell5 6 years ago from Indianapolis

      First of all, thank you all for reading, considering the points made, and commenting. It would be naive to assume that Democrats don't ever "cheat," for lack of a better word. I don't assume that at all. I don't like either major party option. I find them both fairly cynical and rather disinterested in actually solving problems. My main point: When democracy "gets in the way" of winning the right to govern, you're not worthy of governing. And yes, that would apply to the Democrats as well. My real interest, and one the OWS movement might be spurring to a degree, is that another option is necessary. See the debt ceiling fiasco, current inability of "super-committee" to reach compromise, Mitch McConnell claiming his number one agenda was not helping to govern the US well, but rather to unseat Obama. I don't any party that would resort to blocking people from voting to have the insight and wisdom to govern correctly. Thanks/ KM

    • profile image

      BDoug 6 years ago

      It's hard to believe that something like this is true, but in today's political society, I don't doubt it for even a second. Even as a GOP voter, I'm pretty sure this is not fiction, because I've seen similar tactics used in Michigan, where I currently live. It's a sad day when your government attempts to prevent everyone from having a voice, just to save their own personal paycheck.

    • profile image

      Jeni Nagakane 6 years ago

      I do not believe this is fiction. I know the mind that wrote this brilliant and insightful article, as he was one of my teachers in high school (and one of the most influential teachers I ever had the privelege to learn from).

      There are a lot of very valid points here. And I would have to say that I pretty much agree with Mitch here.

      Dirty tricks can come from both sides. Both parties can play dirty. We, as voters, have to weed through all the shit to find what the candidates really stand for and what they are really trying to do....and then we have to try to find time to get to the polls while we are busy working and taking care of our families before the deadline of 6pm here in Indiana so that we can cast our vote and hope that the rest of the people who have gotten to exercise their voting RIGHT have seen through the shit and gotten to the heart of the issues and what the candidates really stand for and have come to the same conclussion we have.

      Oh...and that the ones that think like we do have not moved recently.

    • profile image

      Mary K 6 years ago

      I assure you Democrats are just as corrupt as Republicans. I am fairly certain this is fiction because it is set up too well. You lost me with the white wife. I think you are the one who is judgmental and prejudice, just it's not race, it's people who don't have the same opinion you do. Maybe the clerk was just doing what they asked and was asking random people if their address changed. Stop hating man, don't assume every conservative has a hidden agenda to hold you back somehow.

    • profile image

      Comprehensive Reader 6 years ago

      Emsher- Although you have some good points at the end, I think it is a little naive to suggest that the article claims that only the GOP uses dirty tactics to get votes. Actually he points out that he was told by the ISU democrats to do the exact thing you described of not registering GOP voters but decided not to do so. I think his point was more that both sides are dirty, just the GOP is a little better at it, therefore we see more of it. I don't think it was that the Dems are above playing dirty just less competent.

    • profile image

      Emsher 6 years ago

      To claim that only Republicans are using sneaky tactics is a little naive. Here in Baltimore, for example, volunteers visit neighborhoods and go to door signing people up to vote. Only group of volunteers are ever sent to the neighborhood. Common practice is to first ask party affiliation, if the person says Republican, the Decocratic volunteer ( brought in by the mayor's office) will tell the person that Republicans willbe around the next day to help them register.

      My uncle ran many democratic campaigns, before retiring 10 years ago. He trained people to do that. It is still common practice.

      Politics is flawed, and gravely broken. Lets lay the blame where it belongs: both parties, and "We The People" who keep being foolish enough to keep voting them in.


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