This past June The Atlantic published an article which included the quote, “Signs are growing that voter turnout in 2020 could reach the highest levels in decades—if not the highest in the past century—with a surge of new voters potentially producing the most diverse electorate in American history”.
It is common to hear people discussing politics and the primary and general elections. There is an ever present and unanimous attitude that we all have a responsibility in determining our country’s next leader. It is our young generation in particular who have turned their interest towards equality, our Democracy and taking a stand, or a knee, for justice and the common good.
In past elections, younger voters—those 39 years and younger—typically had the lowest voter turnout. Young eligible voters simply did not have any enthusiasm for the political process.
Today and with hope going forward political astuteness will be the “new normal”. Astuteness however requires the awareness of political issues like voter suppression and how to cast their ballot successfully.
“The goal of voter suppression is to manipulate political outcomes, and the result is a severely compromised democracy that doesn’t reflect the will of the people.
Our democracy works best when all eligible voters can participate and have their voices heard”. – ACLU
Here are some tactics which are used to suppress the vote and control the will of the people:
Voter ID Laws – Thirty-six states have identification requirements at the polls. Seven states have strict photo ID laws, under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot – no exceptions. These strict ID laws are part of an ongoing strategy to suppress the vote, and it works. Over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification.
Voter Registration Restrictions – Restricting the terms and requirements of registration is one of the most common forms of voter suppression. Restrictions can include requiring documents to prove citizenship or identification, onerous penalties for voter registration drives or limiting the window of time in which voters can register.
Some states restrict registration by allowing people to register long in advance of an election. For example, New York requires voters to register at least 25 days before the election, which imposes an unnecessary burden on the right to vote. In the 2016 presidential election, over 90,000 New Yorkers were unable to vote because their applications did not meet the 25-day cutoff, and the state had the eighth-worst turnout rate in the country.
Voter Purges – Cleaning up voter rolls can be a responsible part of election administration but sometimes states use this process as a method of mass disenfranchisement, purging eligible voters from rolls for illegitimate reasons. A single purge can stop up to hundreds of thousands of people from voting.
Voter purges have increased in recent years. A recent Brennan Center study found that almost 16 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, and that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination had significantly higher purge rates.
Felony Disenfranchisement – A felony conviction can come with drastic consequences including the loss of your right to vote. But different states have different laws. Some ban voting only during incarceration. Some ban voting for life. Some ban people while on probation or parole; other ban people from voting only while incarcerated. And some states, like Maine and Vermont, don’t disenfranchise people with felony convictions at all. The fact that these laws vary so dramatically only adds to the overall confusion that voters face, which is a form of voter suppression in itself.
Due to racial bias in the criminal justice system, felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect Black people. It should come as no surprise that many of these laws are rooted in the Jim Crow era, when legislators tried to block Black Americans’ newly won right to vote by enforcing poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers that were nearly impossible to meet.
To this day, the states with the most extreme disenfranchisement laws also have long records of suppressing the rights of Black people. In Iowa, a system of permanent disenfranchisement, paired with the most disproportionate incarceration rate of Black people in the nation, has resulted in the disenfranchisement of an estimated one in four voting-age black men.
Gerrymandering – Every 10 years, states redraw district lines based on population data gathered in the census. Legislators use these district lines to allocate representation in Congress and state legislatures. When redistricting is conducted properly, district lines are redrawn to reflect population changes and racial diversity. But too often, states use redistricting as a political tool to manipulate the outcome of elections. That’s called gerrymandering — a widespread, undemocratic practice that’s stifling the voice of millions of voters.
We are all affected by voter suppression. However, some groups are disproportionately affected by voter suppression tactics, including people of color, young people, the elderly, and people with disabilities.
The right to vote is the most fundamental constitutional right for good reason — democracy cannot exist without the electoral participation of citizens. States can enact measures to encourage rather than suppress voting. Automatic, online, and same-day voter registration encourage participation and reduce chances of error. Early voting helps people with travel or accessibility concerns participate. And states must enforce the protections of the Voting Rights Act.
At an individual level, the best way to fight voter suppression is to vote.