Having lived in metro Detroit for more than two decades, I know what would happen if African American Detroit residents attempted to force their way into a room where votes were being counted in the predominantly white suburbs. It wouldn’t end well.
The opposite scenario unfolded Wednesday in downtown Detroit. Shouting “Stop the count!” and "Let us in!", several dozen election challengers, most of them white, tried forcing their way into a vote-counting room at the TCF Center after being denied readmission, according to the Detroit Free Press. A Detroit Police Department spokeswoman told me that no arrests were made.
Officials had sealed off the area because it was over capacity due to COVID-19 restrictions. Several hundred Democratic, Republican and independent challengers were already inside the facility observing the vote count and looking for any irregularities, but officials were not letting anyone in to replace them. Police sealed off the building after the fracas.
Michigan was in the national spotlight as a key battleground in this year's presidential election. Donald Trump's early lead disappeared as mail-in ballots from urban areas were counted. The Associated Press has called the state and its 16 electoral votes for Democrat Joe Biden.
Even though the protesters were unable to access the vote-counting room, the process of counting absentee ballots was still disrupted. Standing outside the TCF Center on Wednesday night, a volunteer attorney from Ann Arbor who was scheduled to observe the count told me that he was denied access to the building. A credentialed ballot challenger, who was also scheduled to observe the count, told me that she too was denied admission. “We have people in there who need to be relieved,” she said.
Last month, a pair of out-of-state conservative political operatives were charged with orchestrating nearly 12,000 robocalls to residents in the 313 area code that includes Detroit. The automated calls attempted to discourage people from voting by mail.
On Election Day, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel warned on Twitter that another series of misleading robocalls directed at residents of majority-Black Flint were intended to mislead voters.
There’s nothing new about whites attempting to interfere with the voting rights of people of color. It’s part of a disturbing, larger pattern of voter suppression that has become standard operating procedure for some Republicans. It’s time to call GOP voter suppression what is is: white privilege on steroids.
How else do you describe actions intended to disenfranchise people of color? How else do you describe the belief among many whites that they are entitled to engage in malevolent behavior to ensure their ability to rule, even if they can’t win elections fairly?
It’s bad enough when the white majority in the USA suppresses votes of people of color. But according to the Census Bureau, whites could become a majority minority as early as 2044, making up less than half of the country’s population. A conservative subset of that white minority attempting to suppress the democratic rights of a nonwhite majority would be a recipe for disaster.
If you believe in the founding documents of this country, then you accept the idea that individual rights are not a gift from government, a political party or a demographic group; rather, they are the birthright of every American.
Carrying a sign written in Arabic, a man named Mood, who declined to give his last name, told me that he saw videos of the protest on Facebook and drove to the center from Dearborn with a group of friends to counterprotest and show his support for “counting every vote.”
Notice he didn’t say he supported “counting every vote of people who vote like me and who look like me.”
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Vote challenger chaos in Detroit and white privilege