The fifteenth amendment is dedicated to securing the voting rights of all United States citizens. Yet, history has proven how fragile this amendment is and how easy it is to manipulate the law. Voter suppression tactics (both legal and illegal) have been used throughout our history to prevent specific population segments from exercising their right to vote.
Before the implementation of Jim Crow laws, voter suppression was undisguised and often brutal. Minorities were directly turned away by ballot commissioners and were even assaulted or murdered for voting to instill fear in others. Fortunately, most Americans have moved beyond those blatant and unforgivable acts, but those who still want to restrict voting rights have developed more duplicitous ways to achieve the same goal.
Despite the widely circulated but unproven conspiracy theories that the last election was fraudulent and benefited the Democrats, there were actual verified accounts in which many southern states had issues with their voting registry. However, those issues were not targeted at Republicans as former President Trump claimed but rather at minorities who were registered Democrats. For example, in Georgia, many irregularities were reported, including missing machines at polling places and mail-in ballots that never arrived at voters' houses. Georgia also implemented a law prohibiting felons on probation for crimes involving moral turpitude from registering to vote. In their ruling 471 U.S. (1985), the Supreme Court criticized the law for its' roots in white supremacy.
In Texas in March 2020, reports showed that the state led the South in closing down voting locations, making it more challenging for African-American and Latinos to vote. In fact, the 50 counties that experienced the highest increases in minority populations had 542 polling sites closed between 2012 and 2018. In addition, a few notable Texas Republicans sued Governor Abbott in September 2020, attempting to limit the number of days early voting was allowed in the state. In October, a conservative activist and three Republican candidates sued to invalidate 127,000 drive-through ballots cast in predominantly Democratic Harris County. Fortunately, the courts rejected the lawsuit.
However, the Republicans are not giving up on their attempts to increase voting barriers. In Texas, the House legislation passed a bill that includes some of the following provisions: new ID requirements for those seeking to vote by mail, limited voting hours, decreased eligibility for absentee voting, new criminal penalties, and a ban on drive-through and 24-hour voting options.
Harris County officials have stated that people of color made up most of the voters who took advantage of the 24-hour alternative. Comparing that legislation to Jim Crow laws, experts have agreed that this restricting this option would disproportionately affect people of color. Other provisions include creating strict signature-matching rules that could enable the rejection of valid votes cast by mail, further emboldening partisan poll watchers with more authority, and imposing stiff penalties on election administrators.Equally concerning, an ACLU of Texas report found that more than 70% of prosecutions for alleged polling offenses by the state attorney general's office were targeted at Black and Latinos.
Many of these new restrictions come as a direct result of the effects that Covid-19 had on the 2020 election. Due to the pandemic, more people voted by mail, which led to the highest voter turnout in history and to President Biden's victory. Because polling was more convenient, it enabled minorities to cast a ballot who may not have previously voted due to work obligations, transportation issues, etc.
Unfortunately, Texas isn't the only state trying to make voting harder. This year started with the introduction of 253 bills proposing voting restrictions across 43 states. Republicans claim they are recommending changes to ensure the integrity of the process. Yet, new rules are being proposed in many states where elections ran smoothly. The more obvious reason they want to restrict access is that the expansion of voting options in the last election radically reshaped who turned out and how they voted which did not in the Republican Party’s favor.
Actions from opposition organizations have already begun through a combination of increasing citizen awareness, legal challenges, and activism. One example is the March On for Voting Rights demonstration, which took place on August 28, 2021. Civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King III, Andrea Waters King, and the Rev. Al Sharpton, led marches in numerous cities, including Washington, D.C., Houston, Miami, Phoenix, and more than 40 others. Thousands joined in the fight to protect voters' rights.
Although it's hard to believe that we still see these repressive tactics in 2021, the Republicans may be underestimating the people's will. Average citizens are speaking out and refusing to allow themselves to be marginalized. And it's crucial for everyone to understand that when even one person's rights are restricted, the very foundation of democracy is at risk. So, regardless of their political party, every American should want to ensure that voting is accessible to every citizen. It’s a right that is far too precious to lose.
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