We are not supposed to talk about this: Get out of my vote

Luther Abel – Columnist

     In the last couple of months, we have been bombarded with “Did you vote?” banners, notifications and communications from organizations such as Facebook, the bookstore and the neighborhood CBD shop. Instagram will hold your hand as you look to see whether you are registered and send you to the page from which one can request a ballot. 

    On campus, various groups do much the same, “raising awareness” about voting and lowering the barrier for student engagement with registration efforts and stroll-to-the-polls groups. This is all fine and lovely. 

    What stokes my ire is when Lawrence’s administration and faculty get involved because it is grossly self-serving and abuses the student-professor and student-administration relationship. 

     First, there is the rank partisan interest of the faculty. It does not take a statistician of great skill to suss out that the more Lawrence students vote, the more net votes are cast for much of the faculty’s party of preference. So, while a faculty member might defend his or herself from accusations of partisanship by claiming “I would take any student to the polls, no matter their political leanings,” it’s self-interest garbed in virtue. 

    Even if every 10th student a faculty member would take to the polls votes conservative or third-party, nine students vote for precisely the people the faculty member most wants to win. 

    Furthermore, I’m skeptical of how many faculty members would volunteer to walk over an outspoken Republican student, as progressivists would see this as aiding and abetting a vote for a racist, xenophobic — yada, yada, yada — right-wing candidate. Ironic that a school that claims liberalism is home to so many who find the free exchange of ideas repugnant. 

     But let us say, for argument’s sake, that the student body is split perfectly down the middle in partisan affiliation so that all votes cast by Lawrence University students would result in a net-zero advantage to either major party. 

     Even then, I think it’s an abuse of authority for faculty to take students to the polls.

     There is an inherent power imbalance between faculty and student, as well there should be, for it is the role of instructors to correct, grade and illuminate the products of their students’ minds. 

     Faculty are held in high-regard by the student body because the professors decide our future and current success, write letters of recommendation on our behalf and in so many other ways can alter a student’s future. 

    So, when a student walks to the polls with a professor from whom the student may need something someday, might that not alter how the student is to vote? This passive coercion is an abuse of the educator’s role. 

     We talk about voter intimidation coming from the Right — the little old lady poll-watchers who apparently have brass knuckles in their pockets by which to scare off Democrat voters — and here we have a similar strain of intimidation on the Left, not of physical violence but hypothetical violence against a student’s future.

    “But, Luther,” you might be saying, “is this irritation with how voting operates at Lawrence not stemming from your political desires?” Yes and no, aware and intelligent reader. 

     No, in that even if the student body here resembled that of Liberty University in Virginia — a private Christian university with a conservative faculty and administration — and it would ostensibly benefit “my side,” I would make the exact same arguments against faculty involvement in a student’s voting. 

     But, also, yes, this argument has elements of self-interest, as faculty no longer taking students to the polls may reduce votes cast for left-wing candidates by x amount. So, you got me there; my ingenious plot to enthrall the 10 minds who might read a piece of mine in the pages of The Lawrentian is now laid bare. 

     My suggestion going forward is to have only student groups handle the ferrying of fellow students to and from the polls. While many of these groups have obvious partisan desires, I think it better for peers to work these matters out than to introduce power dynamics of a much more significant nature inherent with faculty involvement. 

    As a last note, dear reader, you need not vote. Everyone and their grandma will tell you it is “so important to vote,” but it’s not really. Suppose you find a candidate suitably attractive to your politics, cast that ballot. 

    And, if you’re put off by the selections available, don’t vote. The ability to abstain from elections is an incredible freedom, communicating to all parties that what they are selling does not interest you, and, perhaps, they need to adjust to accommodate you. 

Agree? Disagree? Think I’m a Russian operative hell-bent on a second Trump term? Contact me at abell@lawrence.edu

Fariba Lale – Columnist

    Why the hell is Snapchat telling me to vote? They even have a cute little “vote” button built into the home screen of the app. You can use it to look up your polling location and a sample ballot by entering your home address, which, it informs you, will be stored by BallotReady and Google.

    “So, what’s your problem, Fariba?” Well, listen, Jack. Here’s the deal.

     First of all, a lot of this “nonpartisan” type of voting encouragement just rubs me the wrong way. Leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Tastes like malarkey, you might say. Sure, some folks are genuinely interested in promoting democracy in this country. 

    Others are laboring under the assumption that we share politics, and, therefore, my vote will serve to increase their candidates’ chance of success. Remember when Amy Schumer and co. got naked to inform you about naked ballots? No endorsements, no pressure. Fine. Cool. Do you think they had a Trump-voting audience in mind when they did that?

    I know I am making this sound super trivial, but there are very real issues with flippantly throwing around “vote” as if, one, it is the be-all and end-all of political involvement and, two, there are not valid reasons why one would abstain from voting at all.

    The meat of the issue is that voting is being held up as something it absolutely is not. Our government is infested with corporatists and fascists and criminals, a great number of whom we voted for. 

     How do you change a system while carefully abiding by the avenues it controls? You vote for these animals, and then they thank you by spitting in your face, and you are told there is nothing you can do but vote again. Vote next time. Vote more. Vote harder. Malarkey!

    What to do, what to do … Well, how about we demonize nonvoters and push a narrative where they are framed as privileged and inherently comfortable within our current system? 

    What’s that? Nonvoters are largely nonwhite, lower income, young and less educated? What’s that? None of these things constitute privilege in this country? Well, no matter.

     Not everyone has the time to go wait in line for seven hours. Not everyone can take off work because Election Day is not a national holiday. And, beyond that, I could imagine why many would just feel totally discouraged from voting in a system which has not shown them material benefit.

    At the same time, other methods of political involvement are disparaged altogether. Well, “disparaged” is not the right term. “Violently suppressed” is probably better. In the last few months, so many folks have put their lives on the line in the streets. 

    They are painted as violent criminals for organizing and demanding justice while they are gassed and beaten by the thugs of the state. They are asked to please calm down and make their voice heard in the voting booth instead. 

     They are asked to refrain from “violence” because violence, apparently, applies to the destruction of property and not the destruction of human life that is written into our laws and practiced as a matter of policy, both domestically and abroad. 

    Biden cannot even state an ounce of support for the Black Lives Matter movement without foregrounding his desire to see “violent anarchists” locked up. What about the cops, Joe? 

    Beyond that, protestors have been charged with felonies for their actions because of laws created in the last few years in several states that heighten various charges which, previously, would have been considered misdemeanors. You know what a felony charge means, right? Whoops, no more voting!

     An interesting example to consider in terms of voting and its role is Bolivia’s recent election. I have seen some American lefties jump on the voting-is-the-most-important-thing train as the leftwing party, Movement for Socialism (MAS), claimed victory. 

     I think that is a vast oversimplification of the situation, though. Most obviously, yes, voting achieves socialism when a socialist party is viable and you vote for them. Duh. Voting for a corporatist rightwing neoliberal hack who thinks that police reform means training cops to shoot citizens in the legs is, well, probably not going to achieve the same effect. 

     Further, to give all the credit to electoral politics completely ignores the year of demonstrations in which Bolivians participated. And, finally, our elections are a disaster. 

     We had a sham election in 2016; we are going to have a sham election in 2020. Nothing has changed. When Mr. Peepee Buttigieg declares himself the president there will not be anything you or I can do about it.

    I know I sound like a doomer, but all I am really trying to say is that this discussion should not end after Nov. 3. Vote if you want to, vote for who you want to or do not vote at all if you so choose. That is kind of the whole point of this “democracy” thing. 

    Regardless, organize, read, donate and protect your comrades. Even if Snapchat has not reminded you to do it.