Opinion: How to suppress voting right out in the open

Exterior, Bridgeport City Hall in Bridgeport, Conn. March 1, 2018.

Exterior, Bridgeport City Hall in Bridgeport, Conn. March 1, 2018.

Ned Gerard / Hearst Connecticut Media

During my brief adult life, I have had the rare opportunity to experience the political cultures in three distinct parts of the U.S. As winter cold finally reaches Bridgeport this year, I am reminded of time spent on the streets of Chicago as I campaigned for a mayoral candidate from summertime into the icy days of February. I slowly began to realize what structured inequality looks like and what voter suppression can be, absent an actual policy that limits voter rights.

So how does suppression happen without creating formal legislation that does so? Simple. We hold crucial elections in a time where most people do not want to even leave their house to get their mail mere steps away (or newspapers; remember them?) I arrived in Chicago in summer 2018, and prepared for what I had anticipated would be a fall election cycle in correlation with the November cycle I had been used to previously.

The second Tuesday of November was official Election Day for my entire life, and when I arrived in Chicago, I was told that municipal leadership, aldermen and mayor, were elected in February, the shortest and coldest month of the year in the Midwest. I remember being perplexed and questioned, “Why was the system built in this way?” As I campaigned in the streets, it became apparent that the system was created to keep sections of the population unable or unwilling to participate in voting.

During the Chicago winter you can get frostbite with less than 10 minutes exposure. How do these conditions affect citizens who cannot drive, depend on public transportation, and then must wait outside in lines at a polling place instead of in a warm car until the “line dies down”? A large number of folks decide it is not worth their time, and habits form, reducing numbers of voices exercising their rights. They lose the voice that is their right without even noticing that this is how the system was originally developed and maintained.

As I sit here today and prepare for the February 2022 DTC election in Bridgeport, I cannot help but think that this is one way the DTC maintains its power. It benefits those in power by limiting other voices unwilling to challenge the difficulties. Isn’t it great to discover “suppression” done out in the open in plain sight?

Jose Lopez, of Bridgeport, ran for the Board of Education as a candidate for the Working Families Party in 2021.