The biggest lie in American politics is that Ralph Nader cost Al Gore the election in 2000. Many people (myself included) have perpetuated this lie because the Florida election results suggest that the thousands of votes Nader received could have won the state for Gore.
In truth, someone else caused Al Gore to lose Florida in 2000: ex-felons. According to the Sentencing Project, 31 percent of black men could not vote in Florida in 2000 because of a ban on felons (incarcerated people are disproportionately male). As of 2010, the same group found that 10 percent of Florida’s voting population was disenfranchised, a large amount of them were black Democrats. In November 2000, an unrepresentative voter pool gave 537 more votes to George W. Bush, who went on to double black unemployment, increase black child poverty, and literally leave black people for dead after Hurricane Katrina. The U.S. prison system created that mess.
The New York Times reports that because of the war on drugs, black people are 3.7 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than white people, despite the fact that Americans of all races use drugs at about the same rate. Similar disparities exist for the Latinx community. As a result, a vastly disproportionate amount of black and Latinx Americans experience voter discrimination against ex-felons. In nine states, people with felony convictions may only restore their voting rights through a court action or governor’s pardon.
Even in the many states in which voting rights are automatically restored upon completion of prison time, the arduous and lengthy process of re-registering dissuades people from expressing their right to vote. On top of this, voter I.D. laws disproportionately affect black and Latinx people. All of this gives the false appearance of a close race between candidates when, in reality, many people of color are suppressed electorally. Transparently racist candidates can get half the vote because the U.S. voting population looks nothing like the actual population.
In this election, no candidate is a great option. Hillary Clinton has implied that black youth are “superpredators” as well as having infamously supported a crime bill in 1994 that contributed to today’s austere U.S. prison system. Much worse, however, is Donald Trump’s authoritarian espousal of “law and order,” the same rhetoric Presidents Nixon and Reagan used to incite white fear and initiate the war on drugs. Additionally, Trump argued that he could stop violent crime in a week in Chicago by having the police be “very much tougher than they are right now.” I doubt that the victims of police brutality and the war on drugs would agree. Hillary Clinton is not the poster child of antiracism, but anything is better than a Trump-sized escalation of “toughness on crime.” Therefore, white supporters of antiracism owe it to the disenfranchised to vote for Hillary Clinton.
Allies should support leaders of marginalized communities in dismantling institutions. But which candidate is more willing to reform based on the needs of marginalized peoples: the woman who told black and Latinx journalists “hold me accountable” or the man who called Mexican immigrants “murderers and rapists“? Under whom are undocumented immigrants less likely to be deported: the woman who vows to fix the family visa backlog or the man whose primary campaign promise is a giant wall between the U.S. and Mexico? Trump is leading the most overtly racist and violent campaign in modern history. To the extent that racial progress has been accomplished in the United States, Trump would seriously regress it. And although Clinton has her flaws, I would rather rail against the status quo than whatever Trump tries to implement over the next four years.
Liking Hillary Clinton is not a prerequisite to voting for her. As a part of the established norm, Clinton deserves resentment for the people failed by the current system. Voting for Hillary Clinton is a vote for that system. Trump, on the other hand, promises descent into further oppression under the disguise of “making America safe again.” Considering these options, one should vote for Clinton in November, and protest her in December. White allies must not repeat the disaster of 2000 by voting their conscience, failing to consider the needs of disenfranchised Floridians. This election, white allies owe their vote to the disenfranchised, to the oppressed, and to all people who do not have the privilege to survive a Trump presidency.