In the wake of the Charlottesville protests and the shockwave that followed the President’s equivocations about white supremacy, it is easy to become disoriented and overwhelmed.
During times like these, focus becomes all the more important. Regardless of your stance on the Confederate monuments, the issue of voting rights can be quite clearly labeled as a serious assault on our liberties.
As a recent Washington Post editorial noted:, “Even if all 1,500 Confederate symbols across the country were removed overnight by some sudden supernatural force, the pernicious crusade to roll back voting rights would continue apace, with voters of color suffering its effects disproportionately.”
What’s challenging about the issue of voting rights is that it is difficult to inspire a passion to get involved. Disenfranchisement of disproportionately minority populations does not happen in one sudden blow; rather, it is imposed gradually in a series of bureaucratic roadblocks erected on a state by state level in the name of combating voter fraud. The result: the disenfranchisement of minority groups and people living in poverty.
On the surface, barriers to voting might not seem “racist.” For example, a law which serves to limit early voting might be seen as a method of tightening the process. Though this may be true, the adverse effects these limits have on minority groups far outweigh the benefit or increased efficiency. In the 2008 elections, for example, 53% of African Americans voted early, while only 27% of caucasians exercised this right. Shortly after, Florida shortened the early voting period, making the voting process more difficult for African American voters. This pattern continues to this day. In 2016, Ohio and Nebraska cut their early voting periods by around a week.
These restrictions also threaten the voting rights of millions of all working-class Americans. With inflexible work schedules, a trip to the polls may not be possible, particularly in neighborhoods where poorly staffed and funded polling stations mean long lines. Early voting is an easy solution, but its availability is being sharply curtailed across the nation.
Here are some other subtle ways that voting has been made more difficult:
- Voter ID requirements: In many states, voters are required to present an unexpired government-issued ID. However, according to the American Bar Association, 11% of eligible voters in the US lack this documentation, with minority citizens significantly less likely to meet the requirement. By imposing such regulations, certain groups are systematically cut off from our democracy. When Tennessee and Kansas enacted voter ID laws, “turnout between the 2008 and 2012 elections declined more in Kansas and Tennessee than in states that did not change voter ID requirements — by an estimated 1.9 to 2.2 percentage points more in Kansas and 2.2 to 3.2 percentage points more in Tennessee,” according to the GAO. This is enough to tip the outcome of an election in many races.
- Registration laws: Across the nation, there are third-party organizations that register voters. Thee services are used primarily by african-american and latinx citizens. Recently, legislation had been passed to add barriers to these kinds of services. In Florida, for example, restrictions on third party registration posed such a challenge that the NAACP was forced to cut their registration initiatives in Florida by 50% efforts in half. As a result, African American registration decreased by 10% statewide.
- Issues with polling places: Low-income communities often have fewer voting booths and thus longer lines, making it less convenient to cast a ballot. Additionally, 868 polling places were closed between 2013 and 2016 in seven southern states.
- Felon disenfranchisement: In a large number of states, felons are barred from voting. According to the Sentencing Project, 6.1 million people are unable to participate in elections due to prison sentences. This number has grown drastically, with only 3.34 million disenfranchised in 1996. With one in thirteen African Americans disenfranchised (four times the rate for non-African Americans), this law disproportionately affects the African American communities. In many southern states, including Florida, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia, this number is even higher with a disenfranchisement rate of 20% for otherwise eligible black citizens. Let’s not forget that our criminal justice system targets people of color– but that’s for another week.
- And the list continues! (Limits on mail-in ballots, gerrymandering, provisional and absentee voting changes, voter roll purges, etc.)
According to the New York University School of Law’s Brennan Center for Justice, roughly 100 bills were introduced in 32 states across the nation this year alone, all purportedly to reduce fraud, but practically designed to restrict access to registration and voting.
We must not overlook the toll this takes on our democracy. While small changes to voting laws may seem insignificant, together they have concrete consequences.
It must be easy– and possible– for us all to get to the polls in 2018 if we hope to vote for those who will truly represent the diversity of the nation. And so we must fight now to ensure that our right to vote is protected.
Until our rights belong to all of us, we are not truly a nation of liberty and justice for all.
We encourage you to click on this link to see whether your state has recently passed legislation to make voting more difficult: New Voting Restrictions in America (hint: if your state is in red on the map below, the answer is yes).
If you believe that this vital part of our democracy is being threatened, please look below for actions you can take.
If you disagree with our stance on this, please leave us a comment. We are here to encourage discussion, and would love to feature alternative views.
Do you need more information before you decide where you stand? Here are a few articles from both sides of the debate: