As a high school US History teacher much of my time is spent discussing our country’s history of inequality and disenfranchisement. It’s the most frequent recurring theme in American history. Recently in a discussion on the movie 13th and the Reconstruction Amendments, I explained that taking the rights away from citizens or being hesitant to give full rights to others rarely happens in a vacuum and is often brought about from a nefarious desire to control and subject. Reflecting on my teaching and planning out future lessons, I cannot help but see parallels in our recent fight to expand voting access within the Baltimore Teachers’ Union to American History’s worst sins.
I recently heard Bobbi Green, an educator at Patterson High School make a very clear, concise, and obvious point: voting should be the easiest thing a person does. Regardless of whether it is three hour waits to vote early in the Georgia gubernatorial election, purging of voter rolls in Indiana, or limiting voting to a few sites during inconvenient hours in our own union there is always a reason why the powers in charge put up barriers to voting. We have to ask ourselves then; why does the BTU want to limit voting and why have they so strongly condemned the effort from BMORE to expand access to mail-in and eventually online voting?
This is clearly a problem that needs solving and previous votes show that. During the recent AFT delegate election, only 6% of union membership voted (488 voters). This election required teachers to drive to the union office in the furthest reaches of the city and vote mostly after school hours. In our 2016 election for union president, still only about 15% of the union voted. This low voter turnout is indicative of the difficulties associated with voting in our current system and the need for it to change. For this upcoming vote, leadership has made it inaccessible for many members by being inconsistent about the times of the meeting, not letting members know if they can just show up and vote, and refusing to provide absentee ballots.
Simply put, it sucks when people are not allowed to vote. Our members are diverse with varying sets of out-of-school situations, needs, time constraints, and desires. By forcing them all to conform to a voting system that requires driving across the city after a long and challenging work day educating students despite historic underfunding and working conditions we can all agree are unfair, the union is signaling that they do not want members’ voices to be heard. Through these actions the union is showing members that when a call for change comes, leadership would rather cover their ears than heed the call. BTU leadership is signaling that they are no better than the worst parts of our American history or our American present by stifling votes to get their way. This system must change to be more open to the masses and BMORE’s constitutional amendment creating a mail-in ballot method, and if members choose, secure online voting, accomplishes this goal.