Behind the Scenes of Partisan and Non-Partisan Work of the 2018 Midterm Elections

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In The Second Sex, Simone de Beauvoir observes a predicament of women where, “even when her rights are recognized abstractly, long-standing habits keep them from being concretely manifested in customs” (7). Despite having non-discriminatory legal frameworks in America and across the globe, white men are disproportionately securing better opportunities and occupying more space in industries compared to women and minorities. This has been emphasized more than ever under Donald Trump’s presidency, where his actions and policies against marginalized groups are inspiring counter-revolutionary feminist rhetoric into mainstream discussion. The midterm elections of 2018 are especially important for women and young people to vote because “these are the voters who stand most apart from the president and who are most at odds with many of the priorities he has advanced in office” (Balz). As a member of both of these groups, I found it especially important to engage in both partisan and non-partisan efforts to make an impact in voter turnout this election. Through my partisan work, I have phone-banked for Karen McMahon who was running for New York State Assembly and canvassed for Angela Marinucci who was running for Erie County Clerk. As for non-partisan work, I had the opportunity to participate in training for poll work. Through an anthropological lens on each volunteer effort I engaged in, I was able to attain a well-rounded understanding of power dynamics and other behaviors present during elections.

Phone-banking exposed me to what goes on behind the scenes at local party organizations like the Amherst Democratic Party (ADP). I was given an information pamphlet on Karen McMahon, a script, and a telephone by the male supervisor named Rhay at ADP. When I was handed my script, I saw he crossed out “women’s right to make reproductive health choices” under issues McMahon supports from my script. He explained how since not all the people I call will be a woman, there is no need to talk about reproductive choice. At the moment of this interaction, I did not think much of this until I realized what it implied after reflecting. There is the assumption that reproductive health care is not an issue that men need to worry about and is a burden woman need to face alone. I’m sure Rhay’s microaggression wasn’t intentional, but this further proves the point how “women are enculturated to feel uncomfortable most of the time” (Loofbourow). Women are taught to not inconvenience others and prioritize others, most often males to perpetuate Kate Manne’s “himpathy.” It was seen that me talking to male voters about reproductive health care choices would be an inconvenience to them because making them uncomfortable with women’s issues is breaking the rules of “himpathy.” Moreover, Simone de Beauvoir explains how women “have won only what men have been willing to concede to them,” another implication of censoring McMahon’s support for reproductive choice is the political assumption that men are not ready to give this choice to women (8). This is to the extent where Rhay didn’t even consider the women voters I would be talking to who would find this information helpful, showing there is a subconscious power dynamic on sex.

Phone-banking also allowed me to interact with different voter attitudes. I talked to voters in the town of Amherst, where most residents are either young professionals or retirees who own their homes and leaned conservative. Knowing these demographics, I was aware I would be talking to a smaller group in this town who were registered Democrats. Besides the ones who did not pick up, I experienced two types of voters. The first one was dismissive, said they will vote and weren’t interested in hearing McMahon’s policies. These individuals either wanted to get off the phone or only voted along party lines. The next type of voter was more sympathetic, such as one older lady who apologized for not educating herself about this year’s elections and was enthusiastic to learn about McMahon’s policies. Phone calls with sympathetic voters were rare, and I noticed they were most often women. This made me reflect on the Declaration of Sentiments, the clause that argues men have “deprived her of this first right of a citizen, the elective franchise, thereby leaving her without representation in the halls of legislation, he has oppressed her on all sides” (Stanton). From the birth of America in 1776, women were disenfranchised due to being seen as only part of the private sphere and shouldn’t occupy space in public matters. Finally, in 1920 when women were given the right to vote, the public and private sphere binary were starting to break down slowly. This explained to me why the male voters I was talking to weren’t showing as much interest, because most of the policies that were controversial and at stake did not apply to them. This nation was built to benefit white men, therefore, no matter the results of this election, white men have a sense of security that women and minority groups don’t. For this reason, I believe phone-banking is effective to remind voters elections are approaching in order to give them a push on what candidates they should research to be well informed on election day.

Canvassing requires thick skin, which is something I made sure to remember when I was canvassing for Angela Marinucci in the village of Kenmore on election day. I was given a map of about 40 houses I should knock on and a script as well. Out of the 40 houses, only 15 answered their doors, who were all white, middle or upper-class men and women. Out of those 15 conversations, I was able to decipher between the dismissive and the sympathetic voters I mentioned above. The dismissive voters were quick to either say they have already voted or will soon before saying thank you and shutting the door. The sympathetic voters were willing to continue the conversation and be educated on Marinucci’s goals if elected. Despite not having any explicitly bad experiences, I noticed ways I was put into the box of an “orientalist cliché” (Darraj 297). Both of the dismissive and sympathetic voters I talked to looked surprised when first opening their door, often doing a double take before addressing me. When I was speaking to one lady about international politics, she asked me why Muslim men are allowed to have more than one wife and why I wear the hijab. While I was happy to answer these questions, she didn’t seem satisfied with my answers. She looked at me quizzically when I explained my religious beliefs and the historical origins in the ability for Muslim men to have more than one wife. She also assumed I was Arab and seemed surprised to know there are Muslim countries outside the Middle East. Nonetheless, this conversation was informative and allowed me to deconstruct the comfortable vision she had about Muslims. I was able to explain to her how “feminism was within my grasp” and that is must not only look a certain way (Darraj 301). This is exhibits why I believe canvassing is one of the most important methods to guarantee voter turnout because it allows physical human interaction that is more likely to sway voters.

Lastly, non-partisan work I have done is attend training to become a poll worker. The training itself was simple and instructional, with a heavy emphasis on non-partisan teams at the poll sites, with at least one Republican and one Democrat at each poll site. Yet, what was most intriguing during this training was when one trainee asked our male trainer if we were allowed to ask for identification (ID) when checking names in the voter booklet. He explained there were certain historical reasons as to why we aren’t allowed to ask for ID but he believes voter ID laws should be implemented in New York State and supposes they will be made into law soon. The only reasoning he gave in support for voter ID laws was because it made finding people in the voter booklet easier. I was astonished to see how explicitly he displayed his privilege as a white male to us when he expressed his sentiments. Voter ID laws were only seen as a way to make the voting process faster for him and he dismissed the historical reasons as to why voter ID laws are still in place today. We have seen how in 2012, “between 1.05 million and 1.86 million women of color stand to be disenfranchised by voter identification laws” (Chen). This is similar to the era of Jim Crow laws where literacy tests were used to disenfranchise Black voters. Furthermore, Voter ID laws will be affecting women disproportionately in all affected groups, such as the poor who can’t afford an ID card, seniors who don’t have ID cards, married and divorced women who don’t have access to documentation with their current legal name, and students who are away from home in college (Wilson). Each of these groups have a higher percentage of women, or only women compared to men. This is why all government officials like poll trainers need diversity training to be educated on the “simultaneous oppressions that all women of color face” as a step towards being better civil servants (Smith).

Volunteering for election campaigning is very important to encourage people to exercise their due rights. Phone-banking is a good technique to engage voters through a simple phone conversation while canvassing is very effective because physical human interaction is more likely to persuade voters to vote for a candidate. Non-partisan efforts like poll work is also very important because it is a way to help the bureaucracy in making the process of voting smooth and just. Yet, aside my experiences from volunteer work, personal experiences I’ve had with friends have shown me there is a lot we need to change about the election process. My friend Sonji is an example of how college students get disenfranchised when they miss the deadline to request an absentee ballot or Emily who requested her absentee ballot on time but never received it. Emily spoke about how she was able to go home to vote but a lot of people don’t have the same privilege. This conveys as to why states like New York need to consider better voting laws like same-day voter registration, early voting, and voting by mail to ensure all who are eligible to vote to never be disenfranchised.

 

Works Cited:

Balz, Dan. “Women and Young Voters Will Decide the 2018 Elections. If They Actually Vote.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Mar. 2018, www.washingtonpost.com/politics/women-and-young-voters-will-decide-the-2018-elections-if-they-actually-vote/2018/03/03/3e3c614c-1f06-11e8-b2d9-08e748f892c0_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.11e5b54f834c.

Beauvoir, Simone de. The Second Sex. New York: Vintage Books 1989, c1952. Print.

Chen, Liz. “A Dual Disenfranchisement.” Center for American Progress, www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2012/10/24/42365/a-dual-disenfranchisement-2/.

Darraj, Susan Muaddi. “Understanding the Other Sister: The Case of Arab Feminism.” Monthly Review, vol. 53, no. 10, Feb. 2002, p. 15., doi:10.14452/mr-053-10-2002-03_2.

Loofbourow, Lili. “The Female Price of Male Pleasure.” The Week – All You Need to Know about Everything That Matters, The Week, 25 Jan. 2018, theweek.com/articles/749978/female-price-male-pleasure.

Smith, Barbara. “A Black Feminist Statement .” Combahee River Collective , pp. 210–218.

Stanton, Elizabeth Cady. “Modern History Sourcebook: The Declaration of Sentiments, Seneca Falls Conference, 1848.” Internet History Sourcebooks, sourcebooks.fordham.edu/mod/senecafalls.asp.

Wilson, Reid. “Five Reasons Voter Identification Bills Disproportionately Impact Women.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 5 Nov. 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/govbeat/wp/2013/11/05/five-reasons-voter-identification-bills-disproportionately-impact-women/?utm_term=.0681cd4f9571.

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