What is Voter Suppression?
Acts of voter suppression are intended to minimize the amount of votes cast for the other candidate. Demobilizing supporters of the opposition has become just as relevant in electoral strategy as mobilizing a supporting base (Hicks). As political races have become more partisan, election analysts have identified key demographics that will swing races. This leads target demographics of voter suppression to be mostly younger people of color. (Barabak)
The Constitution gave no national voting standard and left individual states to decide on most election laws. The Civil Rights Act of 1866 granted citizenship to all native-born Americans, but their citizenship excluded voting rights. Black men were the first to take back their right to vote in 1870 when the 15th amendment passed. It declared that voting can not be denied on the basis of race. Then, in 1920, women got the right to vote with the ratification of the 19th amendment. Finally, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 prohibited states from having discriminatory restrictions on voting registration (KQED).
There have been countless changes made to voting rights since the beginning of the United States, but many laws have been in place to silence voters. One example can be found in literacy tests. Introduced in 1890, people needed to pass a very hard test in order to vote. It specifically targeted African Americans because they had less access to education, and it went in tandem with the “grandfather clause.” In 1895, the “grandfather clause” made it so those whose grandfathers could vote were exempt from requirements of property, tax, and literacy tests. This caused the percentage of black voters to significantly drop (A History of the Voting Rights Act). Other ways voters have been suppressed include voting taxes, violent intimidation, outright refusal to accept the votes of racial minorities, and numerous others (Vox).
Voter Identification Laws
False claims of voter fraud by politicians have led many Americans to believe that widespread voter fraud is a pressing issue. Republicans will persist in their efforts to add restrictive voting laws, as long as voters support them to prevent fraud (Barabak). There are four different types of voter ID laws in the United States. Voters in strict photo identification states without acceptable identification must vote on a provisional ballot and return to an election office within a designated time period with an acceptable ID. This clearly targets minorities because people of color in the United States are less likely to have valid identification. Unfortunately, every state is riddled with laws like this, which suppress the voices of minority voters.
Disparities in Minority Communities
It is significantly harder to vote in minority neighborhoods compared to white neighborhoods. A 2006 study on voter turnout in Atlanta, found that voter turnout is significantly lower within longstanding residents in gentrified neighborhoods (Knotts). Black and Latino voters also wait an average of 45% longer than white voters to vote (Vox). Furthermore, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution discovered that many polling places in minority neighborhoods were “overcrowded and understaffed” during the primary election in June (Barabak).
Many American citizens who have repaid their debts to society for committing felonies are still not allowed to vote. There are five different disenfranchisement policies; “no disenfranchisement (2 states), voting rights restored after release from prison (13 states), voting rights restored after release from prison and parole (4 states), voting rights restored after incarceration, parole, and probation (19 states), and permanent disenfranchisement (12 states) (King). These laws disproportionately affect African Americans because their incarceration rate is 7 times that of whites. Felony disenfranchisement laws result in millions of people of color losing their right to vote even if they have repaid their debt to society. (King)
What is being done?
Most of the fight against voter suppression comes in fighting for policy. Currently, Major League Baseball has taken a stand against voter suppression by moving the location of its All-Star game and draft out of Atlanta following new restrictive voter identification laws in Georgia. Georgia just passed a bill that establishes restricted use of ballot boxes with strict identification requirements for absentee voters (Yahoo!). The ACLU and the NAACP have also been fighting against voter suppression since the 1920’s. They have strongly opposed countless unjust voter identification laws and helped educate people about the issue. These organizations have helped stop many inequitable bills and have helped pass laws preventing voter suppression. They are currently fighting against restrictive voter identification laws in Michigan. They are pushing for legislation to reverse GOP attempts to limit access to ballot boxes in Michigan. This bill is called the HR 1 bill, and it will address voting rights, ethics rules, and campaign finance (Starr). In their efforts to combat voter suppression, the NAACP and ACLU have been very impactful, but not all of their efforts are successful (ACLU)(NAACP). They fight very effectively on issues of voter suppression in court and through community organization, but in the end, these policies are decided on by state legislators. (Starr)
First, the federal government needs to standardize election practices across the country. Every state has different rules about voter identification, and this creates great opportunities for voter suppression. Therefore, the federal government must create a standard national requirement for non-strict non-photo identification laws because there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Furthermore, there should be an increase in funding for polling places in low-income communities to help neutralize voting inequalities. Finally, citizens who have been convicted of felonies should have their voting rights restored upon release from prison. Although these solutions are very unrealistic, they address the biggest issues of voter suppression.
Individual citizens must pitch in to help the effort. Every American citizen who is eligible to vote should register ahead of time because every vote counts. Find key dates for voter registration and elections, so you never miss deadlines. Once registered, you can share information about key dates and help your friends and family members register. If you are voting by mail, be sure to request your ballot immediately to have plenty of time to fill it out even if there are unexpected challenges. Lastly, help educate others about false claims of voter fraud. The false belief that voter fraud impacts United States elections can help fuel state lawmakers to pass oppressive voter identification laws. Every small action helps stop voter suppression. Every vote cast is a vote against voter suppression.
Works Cited and Consulted HERE
Give feedback in the comments below! Did I miss anything? What are some others ways the average American can combat voter suppression?