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How political apathy and voter suppression is impacting voter turnout in western Lousville

Louisville Courier-Journal logo Louisville Courier-Journal 6/26/2020 Quintez Brown, Louisville Courier Journal
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Louisville’s West End is one of many low-income areas across the country Aaron Weller has lived in. 

As all eyes were on Kentucky for Tuesday’s primary election, Weller, who lives in the Russell neighborhood, didn't stumble for an excuse as to why he didn't vote.

“The system is corrupt. The system has always been corrupt," he argued. "It will never be changed."

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Many local officials felt satisfied with Tuesday's high voter turnout, despite national scrutiny regarding Kentucky’s limited polling access in a bid to protect workers' safety during the pandemic. 

A Washington Post story highlighted there were fewer than 200 polling places across the commonwealth, and there was only one polling location each in Jefferson County and Fayette County, where nearly 60% of Kentucky’s Black residents live.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Deputy Mike Littlefield, right, unlocked the doors to the Kentucky Expo Center after a judge's order allowed voters who were on the pavement at 6pm to get in line to vote in Louisville, Ky. on June 23, 2020. © Sam Upshaw Jr./Courier Journal Deputy Mike Littlefield, right, unlocked the doors to the Kentucky Expo Center after a judge's order allowed voters who were on the pavement at 6pm to get in line to vote in Louisville, Ky. on June 23, 2020.

“Voter suppression is no longer billy clubs and Jim Crow. It’s closed polling sites plus 6 hours waits without pay,” tweeted former Georgia gubernatorial candidate Stacey Adams

Record voting, a long wait & antsy incumbents: Takeaways from Kentucky's primary election

In fact, Kentucky has always been at the center of conversation surrounding voter suppression. In 2016, the Election Performance Index MIT ranked Kentucky 44th in the nation, due to us prohibiting early voting and having strict requirements to request an absentee ballot. Kentucky and Indiana are the only states that close polls as early as 6 p.m. And by November, Kentucky is expected to have voter ID requirements. 

This history of voter suppression and political oppression is why some low-income Black residents will never feel involved in the political process.

‘They continue to manipulate’

“The political structure has to be changed,” Weller said.

Political graft, overspending and other forms of political corruption have dissuaded him from participating in the political process — even voting.

“You have politicians, like Republicans, who say, 'Why are we giving money to low-income people for welfare and food stamps?' But these are the same politicians who take your hard-earned tax money and fly around in expensive jets and host expensive dinners,” Weller said.

But it’s not just Republicans.

And it’s not just Louisville, he said. 

Living in such cities as Huntsville, Alabama; Chicago; and Los Angeles, Weller, 35, said he’s seen the same pattern of neglect across the country without oversight or political accountability. 

“They continue to manipulate; they continue to distract,” he said. "The focus is not on helping people get out of the situation, the focus is not on (abolishing) a certain class known as the ghetto.”

The rhetoric behind voting, Weller says, is that we lose power when we decide to not vote. However, he argues that the lack of political education among those who do decide to vote also puts political power in the wrong hands. 

Weller said politicians attempt to manipulate people’s beliefs and decision making by using emotional language and misleading rhetorical devices.

For him, it makes no sense for low-income people to be involved in a political process that they have no knowledge of.

Instead of voting, he focuses on going to work and being proactive in the community. 

Read more: A historic Kentucky primary defied the naysayers. Then in the last 5 minutes, chaos struck

Poll accessibility 

Donovan Powell, who lives in the Park Duvalle neighborhood, also didn’t vote in the primary elections. But he said he regrets not doing so. 

“I didn’t have time,” he said. “I had to see my kids.”

Powell, 22, asked if primary voting was over and was disappointed to know he no longer had a chance to cast a ballot.

He suggested that the government provide more resources and polling locations for people in the West End to be engaged in the political process. But, he also insists the government really doesn’t care for West End residents that are struggling, especially convicted felons. 

‘The only way’

Despite worries of low voter turnout due to voter suppression, many believed that voter turnout would surge due to the recent national protests and the high-profile U.S. Senate primary race between Democrats Charles Booker and Amy McGrath. 

Richard Johnson, 75, who lives in the Russell neighborhood, voted early in the primary.

Johnson said the protests showed there’s more of a reason for people to go out and vote.

“If the system is really how it’s supposed to be,” Johnson said, “then by voting, you are voicing your opinions, your desires, your wishes. And I think that’s the only way you come close to getting what you think you need and want.

“Vote for the people who think and talk and act the way you want,” he said. 

Waiting for June 30 

All eyes will be on Kentucky at least until June 30, when most counties will reveal the in-person voting results including all mailed-in ballots.

And if Kentucky wants to hold more political momentum going into November, more eyes and resources will need to be invested in Louisville’s West End, where some low-income swing voters facing voter suppression grapple with the decision to vote or stay at home. 

Quintez Brown is a summer intern at The Courier Journal. He has been involved with the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests as an organizer and leader and is committed to racial justice and activism. He can be reached at 502-650-3190 or qbrown@courierjournal.com.

Tell me your story

This summer, my mission is to help tell the stories of people who live in my neighborhood — Louisville's West End. I will be on the streets of our communities — in California, Shawnee, Russell, Parkland, Park Hill, Park DuValle, Algonquin and Portland —  talking with residents, amplifying their stories and sparking conversations about what our community needs to prosper. Those stories are waiting to be told, and I can't do that without you. So tell me your story.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: How political apathy and voter suppression is impacting voter turnout in western Lousville

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