In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment gave all American citizens the right to vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude” (“The 15th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution”). Although it was illegal to disenfranchise people based on race, many lawmakers created covert ways to get around this amendment. Although many efforts have been made to curb unfair disenfranchisement, lawmakers in the present continue to produce discriminatory laws that disenfranchise many minorities.
I first became interested in voter suppression after the 2016 presidential election. In the 2016 election, 38.6% of the voting-age population in the U.S. did not vote (File). I wondered whether this was by choice, or because these people did not have access or the ability to vote in the election. After doing some research on the topic, I also wondered whether the election might have turned out differently if many unfairly disenfranchised voters had the chance to vote. I was shocked by the number of people who are not allowed to vote because of unimportant details such as an accidental hyphen in their name.
Read my full Personal Interest Essay here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1-JpAC8OiwOlsPz_0FEAPTAESf6KIgySVpFF2NMDaVvU/edit
HISTORY OF THE PROBLEM:
In my research on the history of voter suppression in America, I focused on three main voter suppression tactics: literacy tests, grandfather clauses, and poll taxes.
Lawmakers introduced literacy tests as a way to make sure that all voters were educated, but they were designed so that it was almost impossible to get a perfect score. The tests specifically targeted black voters, who were almost three times more likely to be illiterate (Knight).
When illiterate white voters realized that they could be disenfranchised by literacy tests as well, lawmakers created “Grandfather clauses”, which exempted male citizens whose father or grandfather were eligible voters in 1866 or earlier from restrictions such as literacy tests (Abrahams). These types of clauses were extremely biased and unfair to black voters, because African Americans “had not been enfranchised by [the Fourteenth Amendment until] 1868” (Abrahams).
Finally, poll taxes were a widespread form of voter suppression in the Jim Crow South. Although it may seem like a tax would be equal and fair for everyone, most black voters were at a major disadvantage coming out of the Civil War compared to white voters. This is because former slaves were never given the reparations they were promised, such as “forty acres and a mule”.
To find out more about America’s history of voter suppression, read my full essay here:
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW:
In my research on voter suppression in the present day, I decided to focus on three types of voter suppression: voter ID laws, restrictive voter registration laws, and disenfranchisement of felons.
Voter ID laws are often presented by lawmakers as a solution to voter fraud (Barton). However, in-person voter fraud is extremely rare, so rare that there are no cases of in-person voter fraud in the entire state of Kentucky (Barton). Voter ID laws specifically target low-income people, who may not have the funds to find all of the necessary documents, travel, and take a day off of work to obtain an ID (Rafei)
Strict voter registration rules are another common type of voter disenfranchisement. In many states, such as New York, voters have to register 25 days before voting (Rafei). Many voters are turned away when they get to the polls if they had not registered in time. These types of laws often discourage people from registering in the first place. Another example of a strict voter registration law is Georgia’s “exact match” rule (Knight). The “exact match” law denies a voter registration if there is any variation in the voter’s name between official government records and the registration form, such as an accidental hyphen (Knight).
Finally, felon disenfranchisement is another extremely prevalent form of voter suppression. The laws for people with felonies to vote vary all across the United States. This confusing system is a form of voter suppression in and of itself, because it can be very confusing whether or not someone with a felony can vote in their state. Also, these restrictive felony voter laws disproportionately affect Black voters because they often face harsher punishments than white people for the same crimes (Rafei).
To read more about the present problem of voter suppression and learn about people who are working to fight it, read my essay here:
An ACLU infographic showing the impact Voter ID laws have on minorities.
(“The Facts About Voter Suppression”)
- Educate yourself on in-person voter suppression tactics and know your rights so that you can protect your and others’ right to vote.
- Send a message to your senator to pass the Voting Rights Act of 2019. This act would fill in gaps left by the 2013 Shelby v. Holder Supreme Court case.
- The United States should make voting day a federal holiday. If voting day were a holiday, more single parents and low income people would be able to come out and vote. Currently, elections take place on a Tuesday in November because of an 1845 law meant to help Christian farmers have a convenient time to vote (Wang). If voting took place on a holiday instead, many people would be able to vote instead of worrying about missing a day of work.
- The United States should automatically register all voting-age citizens to vote, allowing them to “opt-out” of voting instead of having to “opt-in”. If a citizen interacted with any government office, such as the Department of Motor Vehicles, they could be automatically registered to vote instead of having to do it themselves.
- If the above solution is not viable, the United States should allow same-day voter registration. The lack of need to plan ahead would encourage many more voters to come out and vote. Voters would no longer have to worry that they might get turned away at the polls because they didn’t register on time.
- The United states should make mail-in ballots the default option for all. This would give voters more time and opportunity to research candidates, so they would be able to make more informed decisions when voting. It would also eliminate long lines and would be more accessible to people who cannot take time out of their day to go out and vote.
- The United States should federally restore voting rights to felons instead of leaving it up to the states. If the rules were uniform across the country, it would eliminate confusion for felons on whether or not they can vote.