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The coming mess 

Last month I wrote about the racist roots of the filibuster and the oppressive nature of its structure systematically designed to stifle legislation and keep our communities disenfranchised ("Undemocratic process," April 15). A system created not to uphold First Amendment rights, but instead to oppress the people that it impacts the most. My fans in the comment section will be excited to hear that I am back this week to expand on exactly that—how a few powerful people are deliberately disenfranchising voters one step at a time.

You've heard about voter suppression in Georgia, Florida, and Texas, but now it's right here at home in SLO County. While most of our community members are hard at work following COVID-19 restrictions, providing the essential services our communities rely on, and keeping their families afloat during an incredibly challenging year, the SLO County Board of Supervisors' Republican majority is making decisions to keep us out of the ballot box. While we struggle to survive, there is a quiet but overt strategy happening in SLO County to keep working people from having their voices heard and their votes counted.

First was the decision to skirt state law on campaign contributions. Just weeks after the November 2020 election, the board majority rushed through a policy allowing for a $25,000 per donor ceiling on campaign contributions for county seats such as supervisor, district attorney, and sheriff, giving SLO County one of the highest limits in the entire state of California. This came weeks before a new state law, AB 571, went into effect that set the FPPC donation limit to $4,900 per donor, a donation cap that the majority of California had no problem respecting. During that November meeting, Supervisors John Peschong, Debbie Arnold, and Lynn Compton blatantly ignored an outpouring of criticism in opposition to this decision, exercising their power to squash small-dollar donors like you and me, with their knowledge that candidates with the wealthiest donors get an automatic advantage.

Then came the 15-hour meeting on May 4. After hundreds of calls and emails and even reordering of the agenda to discourage participation, an exhaustive questioning began baselessly undermining the work of our elected county clerk recorder, questioning the integrity of our elections, and casting doubt on our systems, furthering right-wing efforts to scare voters with distorted information and blatant lies. At 11 p.m., in a 3-2 vote, the board majority voted once again to make it harder for the average community member to participate in their democracy. Though recent surveys show the majority of SLO County voters support permanent vote-by-mail accommodations, Supervisors Arnold, Compton and Peschong made the deliberate decision to adopt the most limited voting model for the future of SLO County. Adopting a one-day voting model, they ruled against mail-in ballots being sent to every registered voter and did away with multi-day voting centers to constrict voting to single-day polling locations. And as a bonus, they went a step further, directing their staff to explore getting rid of same-day voter registration and adding additional voter ID requirements. These are state laws aimed to make voting accessible, but here in SLO County, our leadership isn't interested in that.

Our county supervisors voted against the people they serve and are leading us backwards into the future. Though no one seemed to be able to argue why single- day voting was better, they deemed it best we go back to inconvenient systems and strike new measures that would ensure increased voting access and boost voter turnout. Making voting more accessible? Yeah, what a terrible idea.

Next, SLO County will be redrawing its supervisorial district map in the once-a-decade process of redistricting. Redistricting in most places is done by an independent commission, but not in SLO County. Here, our county board decided it was best to skip assembling a citizens' advisory committee altogether. They instead have tasked their staff with the project to preserve their own final say in deciding their districts' boundaries. This process begins this summer, and based on recent decisions by this board, you don't need a wild imagination to guess how this is going to go down. Voting for supervisor in District 4? Not for long if our board majority sees your vote as a threat to their power. Gerrymandering is the next big threat to our local democracy.

Republican leaders claim they care about restoring confidence in the voting booth. But their actions have shown they aim to cast doubt on the electoral system and keep people who don't look like them, afford things like them, church like them, and talk like them out of the process. Their goal is to keep us away from the voting booth, because they know that the more of us who show up, the more they lose.

Want to change what's happening? The future is in your hands. There is quite literally no one coming to save us from this mess. The impact from these decisions, and whatever happens next, will be profound and will last for decades to come. With a continued wave of attacks on democracy from the political right, there is no time to lose. Δ

Quinn Brady (she/her) is a community advocate, organizer and mother on the Central Coast. Send a response for publication to letters@newtimesslo.com.

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