In a 2016 Time Magazine essay, professors Eddie S. Glaude, Jr. and Fredrick C. Harris recommended Black folks voting in red states cast a “blank ballot” for the presidency as a form of protest.  

Some Black voters, obviously, went further to cast no ballot at all.  

While the “blank-out” strategy was provocative, Glaude conceded in reflection in his most recent book, “Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Message For Our Own,” that “I was wrong.”

Uh, yeah.

The fact is, in every election, every vote counts — and not just because “our ancestors died to secure the right” or “the popular vote” blah, blah, blah.

Even “blue” votes in “red” states during federal elections have significant impact in determining local realities.

Here are a few reasons why:

1. Some “red” states were not always “red.” 

Take Tennessee for instance: Under Al Gore’s tenure (with the help of Harold Ford Sr. and his political network), Tennessee was purple; it could flip either red or blue depending upon turnout. Less than 15 years ago, before 2010 redistricting (read: gerrymandering) and 2012 voter ID laws (read: suppression), Tennessee actually had a Democratic governor, Democratic representation in the U.S. Congress as well as a respectable number of Democratic seats in the state House. 

Don’t write off the blue in this red state, cautions freelance journalist Amy Schulman Eskind in a 2017 opinion in The Tennessean. “People swear Tennessee is ‘Trump Country’ through and through. The news media reports the state as solidly Republican. But we might not be as ruby red as portrayed.”

She goes on to cite how not even 1 in 3 adults eligible to vote (31%) actually voted for Trump in 2016. Out of 4.9 million people, Trump banked 1.5 million votes but almost 2.5 million eligible citizens sat out the election. In other words, just because it’s “red” now doesn’t mean it will always be. Vote.

2. Elections are structure tests.

If a state will ever flip “blue” from “red” or at least be battle-ground-purple, it will require some heavy lifting by organizers on the ground in between elections.  

Organizers need accurate and precise numbers. This is hard to obtain if millions of eligible voters sit out because they feel the fight is fixed or the result is a foregone conclusion. Every election yields important data campaign strategists can use for the next election, including information on which demographic groups to target.

3. There are down ballot races that are crucial.

These races can be determined by small margins. There are 590,700 registered voters in Shelby County. The majority of them are Democratic.

If Marquita Bradshaw will have a puncher’s chance to replace Lamar Alexander in the U.S.Senate and potentially shift senatorial power in D.C., she’ll need every one of those votes (and to bank the majority of new or first-time voters in this election). This cannot be accomplished if a lack of excitement about Joe Biden or his unlikely chance of winning in Tennessee causes people to sit out this election statewide.

The bottom line is, elections matter. Elections have consequences.  Even when votes may not have direct or immediate influence on the result of who lands in the White House, they still have significant implications on what happens at the kitchen table — or in the age of COVID-19, who lives to pull up a seat at all.

The Rev. Earle J. Fisher is senior pastor of Abyssinian Baptist Church and founder of #UpTheVote901. Dr. Fisher was a leader in the 2016 Hernando DeSoto Bridge demonstration and several other protests for social justice in Memphis.


Know before you go

See Shelby County’s early voting sites and hours here

Enter the address where you are registered to vote below and see an interactive sample ballot.

This sample ballot tool originated as a project of The Chicago Reporter and is provided with support from Newspack and the American Press Institute. Candidate data is sourced from Ballotpedia.
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