Voter Suppression: How It's Being Used in 2020

 


        Tuesday, August 18, 2020 marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment which states, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex”. This amendment was a major victory for the Women’s Suffrage movement which was nearly a 100-year fight to secure women the right to vote—well certain women if you catch my drift.

        Despite the historic win, not all women would be able to exercise their newly obtained right. Many women were often subjugated to voter suppression tactics that were used to disenfranchise people of color. Tactics that had been used since the late 1870’s as a response to the brief, but somewhat prosperous Reconstruction Era, a time in which former slaves were finally in a position to vote, hold public office, and build wealth. An era that infuriated Southern Whites and brought about organizations such as the Ku Klux Klan that relied on terror and violence in an effort to restore the White supremacy that was dismantled during that era. And in 1877, with the withdrawal of Union Troops, those who supported the Confederacy were once again in power, with little to no oversight, quickly began imposing laws to deprive Blacks of their newly acquired rights including the right to vote. Which brings me to today’s Voting Series topic—Voter Suppression: What is it and how is it's still being used in 2020?

Note: While doing research for the post I came across this article Voting Rights: A Short History by the Carnegie Corporation of New York which does an excellent job in laying out the history of voting rights in the U.S. Check it out if you’re interested in learning more.

What Is Voter Suppression?

        Voter Suppression is any effort, either legal or illegal, by way of laws, administrative rules, and/or tactics that prevents eligible voters from registering to vote or voting.

        In the past, voter suppression took the form of literacy tests which were used to deny former slaves (who until emancipation, could have been killed for learning/knowing how to read) the ability to vote if they were unable to pass; and polling taxes which were also instituted to discourage Blacks and poor citizens who were unable to afford the expense if they were to vote. If these tactics were somehow overcome, then intimidation and/or outright violence was used.

        Fortunately, today we may not fear being accosted or physically attacked while trying to cast our ballot, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t still efforts and laws being put in place to suppress our votes. In 2013, in Shelby County vs. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled that the formula for deciding which states and localities had a history of voting discrimination (and were therefore required to pre-approve changes in voting laws and practices by the federal government as stated in The Voting Rights Act of 1965) was unconstitutional. Leading to an onslaught of unfair changes to voting practices, in some states and localities, which were seen as efforts to disenfranchise certain groups of voters.

How is Voter Suppression Still Being Used in 2020?

        Now, before I get into how voter suppression is still being used, I want to be sure that it is understood that voter suppression is an issue that has far-reaching implications and affects more than just minorities—although people of color disproportionately affected. Other groups who are targeted by voter suppression (usually due to accessibility or better yet, lack thereof) include the elderly, persons with disabilities, persons with low incomes, the LGBTQ community and young people. 


        So what does voter suppression look like in 2020?

  • Voter ID Laws - Limits the amount of people who are eligible to vote. According to a 2012 American National Elections Study, 13 percent of Blacks and 10 percent of Hispanics lack photographic identification compared to only 5 percent of Whites. Young people and low-income individuals were also among those who are less likely to have photo IDs.
  • Gerrymandering - Refers to the redrawing of district lines often used to help favor a particular political party, basically manipulating the outcome of an election.
  • Voter Roll Purges - Meant to clean up voter rolls of people who move, die, or become ineligible to vote, have been used to purge eligible voters for illegitimate reasons that are often based on inaccurate data. 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.
  • Inconvenient/Insufficient Number of Polling Locations - This can lead people to being unable to vote because they don’t have adequate transportation to the polling facility as well as long lines/wait times that may discourage many from voting.
  • Limited Early Voting Opportunities - Election day is on a Tuesday, this makes it difficult for some who are unable to get time off or have other obligations to vote; making early voting a great option. However, five states passed bills to reduce their early voting period in 2011.
  • Misinformation/Fear-mongering - With the current pandemic and the upcoming election in November, states have been looking for alternative options to keep citizens safe and less exposed to COVID during the voting process. As a result, many states are looking to mail-in ballots, an option that has been heavily criticized by the current administration often citing the potential for voter fraud. Just to be clear, mail-in ballots are the same as absentee voting which has been used in elections since the Civil War. Also, the practice of using “universal” mail-in voting is not new. According to an article in the Washington Post, currently, five states hold their elections entirely by mail: Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and Utah; and at least 17 states allow certain elections to be held entirely by mail.

Note: Every state offers mail-in voting, but some allow you to take part only in certain circumstances. You can use this site to find out your state's rules.

 

What You Can Do

        Educate yourself! Educate yourself early! Educate yourself often! As new laws are being instituted in an effort to suppress votes, being aware of the changes sooner rather than later can help better prepare you and allow you to plan before election day. For instance, if your local voting location will not be open, knowing this beforehand can give you time to locate the next closest polling location and plan on how you are going to get there. Staying up-to-date on your state’s mail-in ballot policy can help you determine if this is a better option for you (especially because of COVID) as well as keep you aware of when to expect your ballot, when it needs to be sent back, and any possible changes.

     Also, most importantly VOTE! I've said it before and I will say it again, if your vote didn’t matter, so much time and energy would not be used to try to suppress it. If you are uncertain as to whether or not you are already registered to vote, you can always check here. For more information on voter registration please go to https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote.

     You can also go a step further by telling your Senator to pass the Voting Rights Amendment Act which would reinstate the critical protections against voter suppression that were removed in 2013 by the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder. The Act was passed by the House of Representatives in December 2019. It was just reintroduced to the Senate in July as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to honor the late civil rights hero and voting rights champion.


Still unsure about voting? Check out this guest feature post from Lillybit that lay out 10 Ways to Overcome Reasons/Excuses to Not Vote

 

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Comments

  1. Well said! This is a topic that gets me so fired up lol. Very informative post, people need to be aware and educated on this!

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    1. Me too! I had to edit myself in this post to make sure it wasn't like 10 pages long LOL. As always thanks for your comment!

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  2. Thank you much for this!! To broke everything down in terms that are easy to understand. This is much needed information for young people to know as we approaching elections.

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    1. Thanks for the comment Rebekah! Yes, I think it's important for people and especially young people to understand that just because you aren't being physically attacked or intimated at the polls doesn't mean that things aren't being done behind the scenes to ensure that you don't vote.

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  3. People must be aware of this, would spread the word. Thanks for sharing.

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    1. I completely agree Margarida! Be sure to share with your friends and family. Thanks for the comment.

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  4. Thanks for bringing attention to this important issue. We're politically active and see voter suppression as a huge problem. In the coming weeks we plan to use our blog to get people registered to vote, especially Millennials and Gen Z.

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    1. That's sounds awesome! And it is definitely needed. If there is anything that I can do to help promote or spread the word please let me know! Thanks for the comment. :-)

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    2. This is an eye opener of sorts. Being an Indian I never knew this existed in the US even though my near & dear are citizens. Will share with them & spread the word. Keep them coming. Cheers!

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    3. Thanks for the comment Ramya. And please do we need to spread the word on this issue!

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