The racist truth behind ‘poll watchers’

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Days away of the 2022 midterm election, a disturbing trend is unfolding involving “poll watchers” positioning themselves at various voting locations across the nation.

These poll watchers are armed men (mostly men) dressed in military attire outside polling places attempting to psychologically intimidate or use violence against certain voters by engaging in menacing antics.

Such activity has been very commonplace in Maricopa County, Arizona where these “self-selected vote watchers” appear to be saying to would-be voters, at the barrel of a gun, “In order to vote, you must be granted approval by me.” In addition to surveilling voters, these self-appointed vigilantes have taken to shooting videos, recording license plates and engaging in other arrogant and retrograde shenanigans. There is no doubt that such behavior has a racial nexus behind it.

The organization supposedly behind such sinister efforts — Clean Elections USA — would undoubtedly deny their mission is to dissuade voters of color. Clean Elections is a group of far-right election deniers, and as any followers of post-1964 American history know, the right-wing segment of the Republican Party is known for its lack of support and hostility toward people of color.

Sadly, Maricopa County – where the percentage white people is about 53 percent – is the ideal demographic terrain for such a group to exercise their putrid and hate-filled demons.

Fortunately, a temporary restraining order was granted earlier this week in response to a lawsuit aimed at keeping an election watchdog group in Arizona from harassing and intimidating the state’s voters. U.S. District Court Judge Michael Liburdi barred Clean Elections USA from coming close to drop boxes, open-carrying guns near drop boxes and yelling at people putting ballots in those boxes. Interestingly , and perhaps ironically, Liburdi, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, had previously refused to bar the monitors but gave the Arizona Alliance for Retired Americans another chance to argue why the poll-watchers should be restricted.

In the third decade of the 21st century, there are still many white people who feel they have the authority to dictate, regulate and police the lives of people of color. This untrammeled sense of entitlement manifests itself in varied ways.

  • Can you tell me why you are jogging in “my” neighborhood?
  • You must show “me” proof that you reside in this neighborhood, apartment, or other location.
  • Explain to “me “what gives you the right to use this pool?

You’d have to engage in some serious level of denial and intellectual dishonesty to argue that non-white voters are the target of such racially draconian efforts. Thus, all talk of “preserving election integrity,” a favorite right-wing talking point, is total nonsense. Sadly, the ongoing fear of ever-changing racial demographics coupled with baseless conspiracies like the “great replacement theory” reside in the darkest corners of the hearts and minds of many on the right.

For all their talk of loving freedom and democracy, in reality, these are the individuals who hate the democratic process. They are only for fair and equitable elections when the outcome results in their favor.

As a Black American, whose ancestors marched, protested and lost their lives to obtain the right to cast a ballot, I am sure as hell not going to allow white supremacists to intimidate or deny me my right to vote.

Copyright 2022 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.