How Voter Suppression Could Affect the Midterm Elections
As a citizen of a democracy, one of the most fundamental rights is to vote, the right to determine which leaders will represent you at the local, state, and federal levels. So, you would think that the people of the United States would be a lot more outraged by the voter suppression that is taking place across many Republican states.
But what exactly is voter suppression? The basic definition is that "political officials use various legal and illegal efforts to prevent eligible voters from exercising their rights." Historically, voter suppression has been used to discriminate against people based on race, gender, age, and disability. And that's not new. In 1870 the Fifteenth Amendment was passed, guaranteeing the right to vote to men of all races (women were not allowed to vote until 50 years later). This resulted in high voter turnout among African Americans, with the number of black voters equal to or greater than white voters. Of course, Southern states could not allow that to continue, so they began implementing tactics to suppress the votes of black Americans. One of the methods used was poll taxes, which required voters to pay a fee before casting their ballot. While many poor blacks could no longer afford to vote, poor whites were grandfathered in if they had an ancestor who voted before the Civil War.
Then there were literacy tests. Like poll taxes, these tests were primarily used to disenfranchise African American voters in the South, so they were not applied equally. For example, property owners were often exempt, and many illiterate whites took advantage of grandfathering rules. And even when tests were given to both whites and blacks, the tests that African Americans took were often more complex. Unbelievably, this practice was not eliminated until 1970 with an Amendment to the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited using literacy tests to determine voter eligibility.
Unfortunately, although polling taxes and literacy tests are no longer used, other tools are now being employed to achieve the same goal of limiting the vote. BCT Partners, a company committed to equity and social justice, highlights some of the current methods being utilized as well as ways that we can prevent them from affecting the 2022 midterm elections.
1. Voter registration restrictions
Some of the most basic restrictions can include limiting how people can register, requiring new documentation, or making it too complicated for people to understand the process. Kenneth Thompson, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, who says he has never missed a vote for many years, had his Texas mail-in ballot application denied twice this year due to the onerous new state laws enacted by the GOP-controlled Texas state legislature. Although his daughter ultimately intervened and cleared up the problem, many voters may simply give up. Look up your state’s voter registration requirements and find states with online voter registration.
2. Longer wait times and fewer polling locations
Voters of color consistently face longer wait times on Election Day — lines that will be exacerbated by cutting alternative options, such as vote-by-mail or expansive early voting hours. https://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/2020-06/6_02_WaitingtoVote_FINAL.pdfA Brennan Center study indicates that voters of color around the country reported longer wait times in the 2018 midterms, using self-reported times from a national survey. Other researchers concluded the same thing using cellphone data to demonstrate that waits on average are 45% longer in neighborhoods with more racial and ethnic minorities. In Georgia, county officials have eliminated 214 voting precincts (or about 8% of the state's polling places) since 2012, most of which are in communities with predominantly low-income and Black voters. Voters in Florida saw issues with access when some counties moved polling places into affluent, gated communities. And in Kentucky, they slashed the number of polling places from 3,700 to 200. The county with the largest population of Black voters was left with a single voting place.
3. Reducing voting options
In Georgia, the Senate President recently introduced a bill to completely ban drop boxes, which voters have widely used to make it easy to return absentee ballots. Other states like Indiana have legislation pending to limit voting by mail, and Republicans in Virginia have already introduced 20 bills to limit or restrict voting by mail.
4. Voter purges
It is crucial to clean up voter rolls to reflect people who move, die, or are ineligible to vote. However, some states use this process to purge eligible voters from rolls for illegitimate reasons. Often, voters only learn they've been removed when they appear at the polls on Election Day. Check well in advance to ensure you are registered, so you don't find out after it's too late. In 2019, the ACLU stopped Texas’ flawed, discriminatory voter purge list that targeted naturalized citizens. This year, they blocked an Indiana law that would have allowed county election officials to kick voters off the rolls immediately without their explicit consent, notice, or an opportunity to correct the record.
5. Redistricting and gerrymandering
Every ten years, states redraw district lines based on population data gathered in the census. The Trump administration oversaw the last Census polling, and it has been widely reported that there were significant issues with the data, including the fact that many minorities were undercounted. This incorrect information affects everything from allocating representation in Congress and state legislatures to funds appropriated for education, public transportation, etc. Unfortunately, many states are also using redistricting as a political tool to manipulate the outcome of elections or gerrymandering, which could disenfranchise millions of voters.
So, what can we do to prevent this from affecting the 2022 midterm elections?
1. Write to your congressperson.
Black Voters Matters recently launched a #VotingRightsContract to get legislators and political candidates to signal their commitment to passing federal voting rights legislation. You can click this link to quickly draft and send a letter. Right now, there are two critical federal voting rights bills – the Freedom to Vote Act and John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. And sign the Black Voters Matters #1MillionForVotingRights pledge to commit to the fight for voting rights at local, state, and federal levels.
2. If you see something, say something.
Whether you’ve observed polling place changes, voter purges, long waits to vote, or faulty machines, you can do something about it by reporting it to watchdogs such as the Legal Defense Fund Voting Rights 2022 or the ACLU. You can also learn how to register, read about the latest redistricting efforts, and donate.
3. Volunteer to register voters.
4. Know your rights.
Learn more about how to exercise your voting rights, resist voter intimidation efforts, and access disability-related accommodations and language assistance at the polls. For help at the polls, call the non-partisan Election Protection Hotline at 1-866-OUR-VOTE.
5. Believe in your power.
Despite all the odds, people do have the power to make significant changes, but it doesn't happen without passion and fortitude. As Black Voters Matter co-founder LaTosha Brown said, "Part of what oppression is meant to do, is to make us believe that we don't have any power. It's to make us believe we don't have a purpose." In other words, the fight for voter rights requires active participation and the willingness to speak out when something is wrong. Change starts with each one of us.
As the late Representative and Civil Rights activist John Lewis said, "The right to vote is precious, almost sacred. It is the most powerful nonviolent tool or instrument in a democratic society, and we must use it.
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