By Priya Kalirai
With all the current discourse surrounding racial tensions and minority marginalization around the world, it is time to finally address the racialized motivations behind voter suppression techniques in the USA.
Voter suppression laws often disproportionately affect people of colour (POC) more than non-POC, and are therefore in no way “racially neutral”. A major issue is that voter suppression techniques are systemically racialized and manipulated, in ways that in turn explain low voter turnout from minority populations, undermining the American democracy.
Voter Suppression: Voter I.D. Laws and Minority Voters
A poll conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) in June 2018, highlighted one of the major ways in which voter suppression against minorities is exercised. According to the poll, nine percent of Black and Hispanic respondents noted that in the last US presidential election, themself or someone they know were stopped from voting because they did not possess the correct identification to vote, as required by voter ID laws in some states. Only three percent of White respondents noted the same experience.
For many minorities, obtaining a valid state ID is difficult. This is because it can be expensive for low-income minority families and requires that individuals have access to their birth certificates, which many minorities do not. Individuals who are unable to attain an ID are often young, impoverished, and less educated than their white counterparts. For example, Georgia’s exact match law requires that a voter’s name must be the exact same on all pieces of ID. If it is not, they cannot vote. Out of the 51,000 people prevented from voting as a result of the law, 80% were Black.
According to The Atlantic, “...across just about every issue identified as a common barrier to voting, Black and Hispanic respondents were twice as likely, or more, to have experienced those barriers as White respondents.” Voter ID laws, automatic purging, and frequent changes to voting site locations all hurt minority populations disproportionately more than White voters. For example, because minorities have a smaller voter turnout, and tend to vote democratically, polling stations are often placed in a discriminatory manner to represent politicians’ interests or agendas, making it difficult for minorities to locate them.
Small Minority Turnout = Small Democratic Turnout
Historically, POC have voted democrat, meaning that racialized voter suppression techniques are effective in encouraging lower voter turnout from minority groups. Perhaps the most troubling fact about these techniques is that whether or not they are intended to discriminate against marginalized minorities, they have created advantages for the Republican party.
In effect, during the 2016 presidential election, the amount of Democrats who were told they did not have eligible I.D. in Wisconsin well exceeded Trump’s margin of victory, meaning that the election results could have been different if racialized voter suppression techniques were not used. As a result, the biggest decrease in voter turnout was seen in Black neighbourhoods.
However, it has been argued that voter suppression techniques are not racially motivated and are instead completely legitimate. Voter ID laws, according to proponents, are a protection mechanism that prevent fraud, which could “...alter electoral outcomes and erode faith in democracy.”
However, Voter ID laws effectively govern who wins and who loses in American democracy through suppression of minority voter turnout. This poses a great threat to American civil rights. Not only do voter ID laws disproportionately prevent POC from voting, but so do “shortened early voting periods, repeal of same-day voter registration, reduced polling hours, a decrease in poll locations, and increased restrictions on voting by felons…” All of these factors have the ability to skew the electorate and American democracy.
The implementation of racialized voter suppression techniques by Republican political candidates, are simply attempts to depress the amount of constituents that are likely to vote for Democratic candidates from voting.
Criminal Disenfranchisement: A Targeted Community
Other forms of voter suppression, such as disenfranchisement of convicted felons, further work to prevent minorities from voting. Many states, such as Florida, Iowa, Kentucky, and Tennessee, essentially ban convicted felons from voting. Yet, as we can see through recent events such as the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, there is a “...disproportionate impact on Black people, who are overrepresented in the criminal justice system...” This overrepresentation of Black people in the criminal justice system can be traced back to systemic racism from the Reconstruction Era.
By disenfranchising Blacks and other racial minorities institutionally, as we have seen historically through the Jim Crow laws, politicians are able to manipulate voter turnout demographics, and in turn, election results. Unfortunately, voter suppression laws are becoming increasingly present and stricter throughout American states - preventing thousands of important ballots from reaching the polls. This is something that needs to be addressed in order to uphold and protect the American democracy.
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