Friday, November 6, 2015

Getting Slapped By Gerrymandering

Since moving to Georgia last year, Laura and I voted in last November's congressional/gubernatorial elections last fall and this year we were excited to vote in our city's local elections for mayor and city council. We became a little more excited when we learned that our town's mayor, J.B. Burke, became a minor news celebrity a few years ago when he was elected into office by a single vote. Stick that in the ear of someone who says your vote doesn't matter!

I searched out the sample ballot to see who exactly was running as the Atlanta news stations weren't ever going to cover the election in our small little suburb of about 6,500 people from the last census. The last time we voted our polling place was the impressive National Archives/Georgia Archives complex a few blocks from our house. It was easily the most impressive building I've ever voted in but when we pulled up outside on Tuesday there wasn't a sign that it was a polling station. After talking with someone inside, they said that since it was just a local Morrow election the polling place was in the municipal complex up the street. No problem. Up the street we went.

Now Georgia's system of voting is the most convoluted I have encountered. I've voted in Wisconsin, Washington state, and Kansas and each of those states are incredibly progressive compared to Georgia (yes, that includes Kansas). The Georgia system involves four tables that voters move through beginning with a table at which you fill out and sign a sheet of paper saying you are who you are.

At the next table, someone looks at my approved government ID and makes sure it matches my sheet of paper. Next up is someone who looks at my address to be sure I can vote. When Laura and I made it to that table there was a line of four people ahead of us including one lady who was being told that she couldn't vote in the election because she didn't technically live in Morrow. Since there wasn't an election at the county or state level on Tuesday she wouldn't be able to vote at all. She, of course, was not happy about this and I thought to myself "come on lady, at least know what city you live in!"

We made our way to the table, handed our IDs over and the lady flipped the book to find us.

"I'm sorry, you don't live in the city of Morrow."

Laura and I looked at each other and the expression on our faces was "WWWHHHAAATTT?"

"What city do we live in?"

"You live in an unincorporated part of Morrow so technically you aren't able to vote in the city election."

She continued and explained basically the exact same thing that she had explained to the lady ahead of us that I made fun of to myself a moment before. We left flabbergasted and after doing a little research we understood what was going on. As you can see the boundaries of our town seem to be pretty standard based on the major city streets until you reach the east boundaries. Then they suddenly include areas and skip others and the areas that they avoid include our townhome complex as well as another down our street.

The population of Morrow of about 6,500 and not including those complexes eliminates at least 1,000 people from being able to vote in the election. These are of course non-homeowners and logically have lower incomes and so the city views them as less desirable to be included in voting and having a voice in changing the city government. I had never run into these sort of problems before and it gave me a window into maybe 1% of the issue that poor and black voters experienced just a few decades earlier. 

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