Countering Voter Suppression
When I think of voter suppression, I think of blatant efforts in the past, both legal and illegal, to prevent eligible voters from exercising their right to vote. Intimidation has been a favorite tactic of voter suppression since the early days of Jim Crow. Or poll taxes which disenfranchised the poor. While open hostility and violence might have been the norm in the post-Reconstruction South, how about today? Since voting is a fundamental right, it is naïve to assume citizens across the country have the ability to access this fundamental right without barriers. Living in my bubble, I had no idea it was still even possible that voters were facing obstacles to the ballot box. What does voter suppression look like today? Here are some subtle and not so subtle recent examples: Roll purges: Hundreds, even thousands, of eligible voters are removed from the rolls, often on flimsy pretexts. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, these practices disproportionately disenfranchise people of color. In 2013, the Supreme Court removed a requirement for states and local governments with a history of discrimination to get approval from the federal government before implementing any changes to their voting laws or practices. Since that requirement was removed, those states have had a higher rate of purges. Cutting back on early voting: Lawmakers request data on various voting practices broken down by race. Then laws are passed restricting voting and registration that disproportionately affect African Americans, reducing participation. This practice has the effect of enfranchising some voters while disenfranchising others. Unnecessarily restrictive Voter Registration requirements: Some states have higher barriers to voter registration than others. Also some allow NO PARTY voters to vote in presidential preference elections (or primaries). For example, on Super Tuesday, any California voter registered as NO PARTY could walk into the Democratic primary voting center, ask for Democratic ballot, and vote in the primary. In Arizona this week, a voter registered NO PARTY will walk into their voting center, find they have been re-registered as a member of the Independent Party, and not be allowed to cast anything but a provisional ballot in the Democratic Presidential Preference Election. This happened to a friend of mine today who was told by the polling place volunteer, “You can cast a provisional ballot, but it won’t count.” Some voter registration practices are a barrier to people participating in the voting process. Fraudulent ballots: The practice of casting ballots in the name of individuals who are deceased is fairly well known and common. “What we are seeing is systematic voter suppression around the country,” says Lauren Groh-Wargo, CEO of Fair Fight Action, the Georgia organization building on former gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams’ work mobilizing and protecting the rights of voters. Abrams had her own experience when she ran against then-Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who refused to step down from his job of overseeing elections while campaigning for governor. The final vote count gave him the race by a margin of just 55,000, after as many as 1 million voters were removed from the rolls. Abrams has called Kemp an ‘architect of voter suppression’. In announcing an additional initiative aimed at mobilizing voters and countering voter suppression in 2020 Abrams said, “We’re going to have a fair fight in 2020 because my mission is to make certain that no one has to go through in 2020 what we went through in 2018.” So what can you and I do to help ensure this as well? Check your voter registration early and often to make sure it’s up to date; Make sure family and friends also check; Volunteer to be a poll worker; Helping counter misinformation and disinformation by knowing the credible sources for voting information and sharing it with others; Double-check the information you hear and report disinformation immediately.