Disenfranchised but Determined: Voter Suppression

Last week’s midterm election was a day of historic firsts for women, people of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar became our nation’s first Muslim congresswomen. Jared Polis of Colorado became the state’s first openly gay governor. Sharice Davids became one of the first Native American congresswomen in addition to being Kansas’ first lesbian congresswoman. The House of Representatives elected more women than ever before. These results are promising for those whose interests are often not properly represented by their elected officials. However, the battle was not easily fought and the war is far from over. The culprit? Voter suppression. 

The Situation

In the weeks preceding the election, tensions were high between our two highly polarized political parties. Republican politicians have tended to promote the idea that voter fraud is a serious and pervasive issue in our nation. This supposed fraud has been the rationale behind a number of recent laws that make it much more difficult for people to vote. What’s more you may ask? These laws tend to target minority groups. A recent law passed in North Dakota required voters to bring an ID with a street address to the polls. Native Americans living on reservations do not typically have assigned street addresses, meaning that this law disproportionately affects the voting rights of this already socially and economically disenfranchised group. A new Georgia “exact match” voting law requires that handwritten voter registrations match the handwriting of personal documents exactly. This law moved 53,000 people’s registrations to “pending” status due to typos and other minor errors. The overwhelming majority of those registrations belonged to black voters.

These tactics may seem to be of little consequence, but the fact is that these sorts of policies are not unique and have been corroding American democracy since the era of Jim Crow voting laws. The Voting Rights Act of the 1960s required states to have preclearance by the federal government before passing voting laws. The idea was that the federal government would only approve voting laws that would not hinder minority turnout. This system was fairly effective in increasing voter turnout among minority voters. However, the supreme court deemed it no longer relevant in 2013. Since the end of preclearance, politicians across the nation have implemented many small policies that, when added up, make it far more difficult for minority citizens to vote.

Why It Matters

At a glance, most of these policies seem reasonable and largely bureaucratic. However, these types of policy changes “have real and measurable impacts on turnout.” Research shows that minority voter rates have decreased significantly since the end of preclearance laws in 2013. Meanwhile, there has been a steady stream of voting laws introduced by politicians that have undoubtedly made it more difficult for certain demographics to cast their ballot. Author and professor Carol Anderson calls this phenomenon “suppression-by-frustration.” The more barriers there are to someone casting their vote, the less likely they are to do so.

Tuesday’s results made clear the insidious nature of voting laws, particularly in Georgia. Those unable to meet the intentionally restrictive ID requirements were given provisional ballots that were not counted on election night. More than 21,000 provisional ballots were cast. Stacey Abrams, the democratic candidate for Georgia governor, has asked that all provisional ballots be counted before results are finalized. Given that her opponent Brian Kemp won election night by a slim 1.5% margin, this development could lead to a runoff election between the two.

The determination of Stacey Abrams is reflective of a national mood among disenfranchised voters. In order for our democracy to be effective and just for all people, it must represent all people. In spite of the obstacles, many minority voters were bound and determined to cast their votes last week. As the social injustices that plague our society and government alike become more and more apparent, people are becoming restless. They are waking up and realizing that we the people must take matters into our own hands and fight for our own rights.

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