I planned to write a post today about the importance of taking our Pagan values into our voting. But I just got my hands on a copy of the manual used by True the Vote, a conservative organization that “trains” citizens to be poll watchers, and I’m too shocked and furious to write what I originally planned. There’s big scare quotes around the word “trains” there because multiple reports have covered how True the Vote’s actions look for all the world like an organized campaign to suppress non-existent voter fraud that will actually prevent valid voting by less-privileged groups, especially minorities. Now ProgressVA has released a copy of True the Vote’s manual for VA. Have a look at one of the images on the cover:
The image shows a person with facial hair and obvious body hair and an anchor tattoo on one arm, wearing a dress and carrying a purse. On the cover of the ebook, this appears under the words “Prevent voter fraud!”
This is True the Vote’s depiction of voter fraud.
I think their image of “fraud” is a trans person.
There are two images nearby of a voter ID card with a female-appearing image and the name “Mary Jane James” and a masculine-appearing image with the name “John James.” I’m not sure whether those images are supposed to be related to this offensive cartoon or not. There are also images of two other people, both smiling, and my gut reaction is that they’re meant to be images of the “good guys” or “real voters.” The person-with-hair-in-a-dress is the only discordant image on the cover, and it’s the one accompanied by a slogan about fraud, while the other tag lines are all about “free and fair elections” and the like.
True the Vote is not-so-subtly training its “election observers” to challenge trans people.
Voter rights proponents have argued extensively that in-person voter fraud is basically non-existent, and in the legal challenge to the Pennsylvania voter ID law, proponents of the law agreed that the problem they claim to be trying to prevent is a non-issue. On the other hand, trans rights organizations have extensively documented harassment or problems resulting from inaccurate documentation and identification which does not accurately reflect a person’s gender. In this election season, with the glut of new laws about ID, tens of thousands of trans voters may be disenfranchised.
It’s only adding insult to injury for a conservative group like True the Vote to use this as its stereotype of “fraud.” True the Vote specifically encourages its “election observers” to watch for mismatches with voters’ IDs and registration records, and to challenge voters in states – like Virginia – where such challenges on Election Day are legal. Their purpose is to prevent people from voting. Even when they’re not successful and a trans person manages to vote, it’s extremely galling to think about the added stress and strain trans people go through when confronted by True the Vote’s “observers,” forcing them to explain – again – their personal situation, including intimate details, to perfect strangers, in public, while trying to reach some unstated standard of being a “real” person – man or woman – in order to participate in this most fundamental part of being a citizen of a democracy.
Pagans tend to be more accepting of trans people than the average population. We’re far from perfect in this area, as recent controversies attest, but I would argue that we have a better track record than many groups. Those controversies and other situations have led to ongoing discussion in our community about these issues, discussion that often actively seeks out trans voices. We have religious reasons to understand gender a little differently – many, if not most, pantheons that we revere have deities or powers who are trans, gender-indeterminate, or gender-bending. As we continue those dialogues and, we need to continue that trend into the area of political activism to make sure that everyone – trans and cis alike – has an equal voice in our political process.
With the election just days away, there’s not much we can do to change these laws – either the restrictive voter ID laws or the state-by-state patchwork of regulations that make it difficult for trans people to have accurate documentation. We can and should stay alert at the polls ourselves, as private citizens. If you see voter intimidation going on, make a note of it. You may not be able to stop it – don’t get yourself thrown out of the polling place, and don’t become the equally obstructive political inverse of interfering busybodies like True the Vote “monitors.” But you can tell people what you see. When this happens, we need to know about it, and we need to get the word out so that we can begin to change things for the next election cycle.
Yes, we need to go vote. We need to stay aware of what’s going on in our voting process, too. And I think we need to cast our votes with an awareness of how those votes will shape the very ability of others to cast their own votes in the future. Will we elect officials who will continue to tighten requirements and foster an environment of intimidation? Or will we vote for officials who will try to make polling open and accessible to all people?