Voter Suppression in North Texas
I hate politics, but I have always committed to being politically aware because I am conscious of the many sacrifices that were made for us to have the right and privilege to vote. Even though my faith (Bahai Faith) does not believe in participating in partisan politics and I still ran for the position of City Council for 1st Ward, in Columbia, Missouri, which was created so that Blacks could have a seat at the table of power, and so I could use the experience to educate everyone that it is possible to run for office without campaigning or electioneering. I lost but I also won.
My wife Nik has always been an active and educated voter and as a lover of documentaries and history, she has an even greater level of respect and deep awareness of the privilege to be able to vote in America.
We recently moved from Missouri to Texas in July of 2016. We had mastered the small city, and choose Dallas due to the weather, greater cultural representation and to connect with family.
Ask my wife: when we arrived in Texas, my very first act was to go and get a voter’s registration cards, fill them out, turn them in, in person and ask would we need anything else and if everything was all set. They assured me that it was and we received our voter registration cards on the 10th of August. I checked that off of my to-do list as complete.
We decided to go and do early voting today because of the importance of this election and it’s oddly but consistent negative and divisive climate this cycle. We went at 2pm on a Sunday because we had to go and have dinner by 3pm and we thought that it would be a time when no one was there. We figured that it shouldn’t take that long. We were both wearing black and we were matching, even though we didn’t plan it. That’s the gist of our conversation as we try to find the spot.
We got to the poll place at a local college down the street. We walked briskly past a flurry of political signage in the front, signaling that we must be in the right place and as we follow the maze, guided by the yellow handwritten arrows, we find the heart of the building and joyfully, see no one in line as we enter the building and see a small army of election clerks waiting for our arrival, looking like they are glad to see a live person.
Even though we didn’t say it, our brief look to each other showed that we were relieved and happy to see some diversity in hue and ethnicity in the clerks tribal backgrounds. We greet the clerks professionally, with a smile and some light humor, and go to separate stations in order to sign up and prepare to vote. We exchanged pleasantries and answered basic questions about our dreadlocks, “No these are not extensions” and “Yes, this is my real hair!” Basic stuff, you know. Racist language, but we aren’t here to educate them on cultural competence, we simply want to vote and vamp.
Soon we are questioned about our Missouri ID’s. We say that we just moved here in July. I answer twice, that I am sure that I am registered to vote. I am visibly getting slightly flustered and when I see my wife being asked the same questions, and she is told that she can not vote today, because we only have Missouri State Driver’s license! They informed us that the law is that if we do not have some form of Texas State ID, we don’t get to vote today. Someone did share the only other thing we could use is a passport. We were taken aback because we had researched the policy before we came today. We knew our rights, and we also knew who each candidate was for each party in all of the federal, state and local elections.
I am pretty sure that they were not aware who exactly was in their presence. Two very unapologetically Black souls, following in the footsteps of Ida B. Wells, John Coltrane, Malcolm X, James Baldwin, Dick Gregory, Maya Angelou, Angela Davis and Betty Shabazz. So, instead of cause a scene, I inform them that we will not be discouraged and that we know our rights and that we expect to vote on this day and to do so with our current identification. They were all taken aback and visibly shaken by this level of confidence.
They call over the Election Judge. She’s a stern looking woman, who seems like she takes her job too seriously. She tries to establish order and she looks at our Missouri ID’s and Voters registration cards, and then oddly passes us off to the clerks, to search for our names again, and they find us finally. While we are completing the preparation to get ready to vote, I see a conversation happening between one of the clerks and the Judge, but I only pay slight attention to it, in my peripheral. They offered no apology for the blatant lack of professionalism when our names didn’t come up and the ensuing questions, but we let it go. At least we are moving towards a resolution: to vote early today.
We are both given our ballot cards to be entered digitally into the system, Nik is having some issues with hers so they offer her another one. I go and start voting assured that she is also voting and finalizing her choices and process. I look at her once, with pride, and admiration. We are voting together for the first time. It was a very intimate moment, a brief glance and smile, blink and nod, then back to voting, that we shared together in that moment.
Soon Nik had completed voting and was waiting for me to finish. While waiting, the Presiding Election Judge, Mary Jane, is talking to Nik and asking her questions like she is conducting an investigation. She asks to see her Voters Registration card again. Nik is feeling very nervous, but is still relatively calm. Then the Judge says the following: “This voters registration card looks very worn to be so new!” Nik says that “Ma’am, it is worn because I take it everywhere with me and I am very serious about my right to vote”. The lady says the same thing multiple times insinuating something and asks Nik to come to the back with her. Nik finally has the realization that something is awry and states “First of all, I am not going anywhere with you until my husband is done voting, and are you insinuating that I am attempting to commit voter fraud?” I am getting done and seeing my wife, who is normally calm and alluring, “ready to throw them hands” I inquire to what exactly is going on. I am still calm. I just voted. We have a great evening planned and all. I ask the Judge, Mary Jane, “What is the issue here?”
Nik shares how the woman disrespected her intelligence, her integrity and she says “My Vote will count today!” and she storms out of the polling place, against my wishes, determined to get her passport, to prove her fair name, against these senseless and baseless accusations. As I watch my wife, who should not be driving, who has clinical anxiety and a host of other health issues, who is on Social Security disability, but who when she is feeling good, looks perfectly fine, leaving the poll place. Mary Jane should have been the person who should be her educator and protector, is instead the very person who is being her Judge, literally, in all of the worst ways. I turn my attention back to the Election Judge. She is clueless as to how she disrespected and offended my wife. I am sure that she will realize it soon.
As I feel my anger starting to boil and I say a quick prayer and ask for an ancestor to come and assist me so that we don’t end up in jail or a hashtag today. I ask her “Why did you disrespect us like that because if you disrespected her, then you did so to me as well?” She had no answer. I then ask her to “show me the law and the statutes that say that we can not vote (after we have already voted, mind you) and that I also would like to know what my rights are, since you are spouting off laws, rules and legal jargon”. She fumbles through some papers and then she calls someone. She is talking to the person, and talking about us, in my face, like I am not present, and presenting her case. At no time is she sharing any of our viewpoints or questions. She is covering her ass! Wow, I pop off. I said “How can you talk about us like we aren’t here, in the 3rd person! That is some very rudimentary communication skills and why are you calling someone if you are the presiding authority here? Who is that on the phone?”
She has no answers for me, only a sneer. Then she tells the person to call security to come over here since I am giving her a tough time. I inform her that if I was giving her a tough time that she would not be able to say it so calmly. I would not be asking questions, but making brazen statements. I said that you have not begun to see any level of pissivity coming from me yet, but rest assured that I want my questions answered.
I have to ask myself quite a few times “What are we even talking about?” and stay focused on the core of the issue at hand. She provided some paperwork with the laws listed. It says that if we didn’t have a DPS ID, that we can provide something else and it should be fine. We would fill out an impediment documentation form. Then I would have to sign it, the Judge would sign it, and turn the form in. I would then have to provide acceptable documentation within 6 days while my ballot was “curing”. As I grapple with swiftly learning all of the laws and understanding the steps that should have been taken, I realize that there are at least three to four protocols that were not followed correctly.
At this time, Nik returns, Mary Jane is still on the phone, and my wife has her passport, damn near ready to stuff it down her throat, even though she is waiting for the woman to get off of the phone and face the music. She is tapping her foot, barely able to contain herself. This whole time, we are getting sympathy from the clerks. An elderly white man is shaking his head, knowing that this is all bad and that we haven’t done anything wrong. An elderly black woman, named Kitty, who is a professional, first time clerk, consoling and bonding with Nik. She asking Nik questions about her life, sharing her story and they are connecting on a deep level. Meanwhile the clueless one, Presiding Judge Mary Jane is on the still phone, getting her orders and presenting her case. The clerks look at her passport and say “Your ballot is good and approved!”
A few clerks shared with us that the Presiding Judge is a straight up bitch. Their words not ours. The Judge never once observed Nik’s passport. Nik forces her to look at it, then confronts her on her choice of words in her accusation, and tone she used. Nik demands an apology and says that this will all be over when she gives it. The Judge says “I am sorry for my observation,” haphazardly. Nik did not accept it. She said that it was not given genuinely. She then instructed her on how to apologize genuinely and what she should say. She said you should have said “Mrs Byndom, I am deeply sorry that I offended you and accused you!” She sneered at her. Nik closed her statement by saying “That’s like me saying that you have a nice shirt, but that you are FAT!” She opened her mouth wide and turned beet red, because until she said it, I did not realize that she was very portly. If it was not serious, and Gomer Pyle the security officer wasn’t trying to look gruffly at me, I would have busted out laughing at that moment. Nik looked her in the eye and went to wait in the hallway, most likely posting on Facebook. Sensing that the fat lady was warming up her voice and singing her first notes, I snickered gently, and said to the white man who was witnessing the exchange “I hate arguing with my wife. I never win. I can only hope for a tie and that’s only if I pray profusely!” Lbvs!
I then tell Mary Jane what is going to happen from here. She looks very offended but at that point, I do not care and she has lost all power and momentum, and so I go in for the close.
- One: we already cast our ballots so all of this is a moot point. You can not take our vote once it was cast, because it is simply not possible. She nodded slightly.
- Two: I am going to file a formal complaint and stop any and all voter suppression in Texas, due to our treatment. If you tried this with us, I know that millions of others are being intimidated and I will not stand for it or stand by while aware of it.
- Three: you will apologize to my wife at some point, formally and professionally. I will assure that this happens. When it does, we will be satisfied.
- Four: I will be sharing this incident on Facebook, our blog, podcast and social media as well as helping it to go viral, to get more people to vote early and to watch for trickery.
- Five: you broke at least 3 laws of protocol today, and I plan to hold you accountable.
- Six: this environment feels very racist and unhealthy to me, and where this could have been a good learning opportunity, it was just the opposite: we had to educate you.
We then wished them all a good day, I stared down the security officer who tried to intimidate us. We walked out that bitch like we were Maya Angelou and Malcolm X on pilgrimage in Mecca, or like Denzel Washington at the end of the Magnificent Seven, riding off into the sunset.
- Go and vote early.
- Know your rights.
- Study up on each candidate, in all races.
- Do a test run at your poll place.
- Offer rides to people or go with others that may need help and assistance.
- Vote your conscience.
- Don’t let any attempts to suppress your vote, work. Push forward.
All love to all of your movements, your souls and your legacies.
Mrs. Nikolette “Empress” Bell-Byndom
Founder & CEO of Free Empress
Co-Host of the Functional Fam Podcast