It started in 2000, right after one of the narrowest presidential elections in history, and it surged again, right after President Barack Obama’s historic election in 2008: voter suppression. (Humph, wonder why.)
From limited voting access, stringent ID requirements and gerrymandering to criminal disenfranchisement, voter suppression is on the rise. Why? Because one group of people (who shall remain nameless) wants to keep certain types of people (like the ones reading this article) from voting. Here’s what they’re up to, and here’s how to stop them. Hint: It starts with voting, but it doesn’t end there.
1. The Black Eye
Is there a difference between someone giving you a black eye on purpose vs. accidentally? Not much, especially if you’re the person with the black eye. Well, Texans of color are icing black eyes, courtesy of a new state photo-ID law, which has a disproportionate effect on black and Latinx voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.
A 2014 lawsuit filed by the NAACP and others argued that the law is intentionally discriminatory, a clear violation of the 14th and 15th amendments and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit have agreed that the law has a discriminatory effect, but they're duking it out over whether it is intentionally discriminatory. The next round of legislative fighting won’t take place until after the November 2016 election. Hopefully injustice will get a beatdown.
2. The Waiting Game
Hate to wait in line? If so, somebody’s hoping that you won’t. Residents in Maricopa County, Ariz., had to wait in astronomically long lines to vote in the presidential primaries in March. Why? Because the county decided to have just one polling station for every 21,000 eligible voters, compared with the rest of the state, which had an average ratio of 1 to 1,500.
Because of the long wait, some residents had to wait for hours, while others never got to cast their ballots. This change is being contested via the courts, but if there’s no change before the November election, just come prepared: Bring your lawn chair, sun visor and episodes of Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder. The former will remind you how important it is to have the right people in power, while the latter will be a nice tutorial on how not to go to prison if you happen to go postal while waiting.
3. The Ol' Switcheroo
In 2014, San Juan County in Utah decided to close all of its polling stations in exchange for a mail-only voting system. The Navajo Nation is fighting this decision as a violation of a section of the Voting Rights Act.
What is the violation? Well, according to Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nonpartisan, nonprofit legal organization, Section 203 of the act stipulates that all voting ballots and instructions be available in English and Navajo. The catch is that Navajo is an unwritten language, so the county’s mail-only system automatically violates Section 203. Obviously illegal and obviously intentionally racist? You be the judge.
4. The "May I See Your ID, Please?"
They tried it! Kansas, Alabama and Georgia convinced the U.S. Election Assistance Commission to allow them to add state-ID requirements to the existing federal voter-registration form, which could prevent tens of thousands of citizens from being able to vote in the November election, according to the Washington Post. The League of Women Voters brought a suit to reverse the decision, and the league won. You go, girls!
5. The Supreme Decision
If you really wanna know why Republicans have argued that the next elected president should appoint the next Supreme Court justice (replacing Antonin Scalia) instead of President Obama, you need look no further than Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 case that removed key portions of the Voting Rights Act, as reported by the New York Times.
The part of the act that said that states with a history of voter discrimination needed to get federal approval before they enacted any changes to their voting laws? Gone. Why? Because five of the nine justices said that the discriminatory climate that existed in the 1960s doesn’t exist today and that such drastic provisions are no longer necessary.
Um, yeah. Tell that to the myriad black men and women who continue to suffer injustice at the hands of the police and the criminal-justice system. The new Supreme Court justice could tip the scale of the court, making it more or less prone to decisions like this one, depending on who is appointed. It’s no coincidence that the voter-suppression efforts that we’ve witnessed in the last few years stem from this juggernaut decision.
6. The Name Game
It makes sense to check the names and Social Security numbers of voter applicants in your county against the list of people listed in the state’s Department of Drivers Service or Social Security Administration databases, but does it make sense to reject someone’s application if her SSA name is “Chante” (without an accent) but her application name is “Chanté” (with the accent)? This new law in Georgia rejects any applications that don’t have an exact match for every letter and number in the application. Ridiculous, especially for those of us with tricky names, and especially because of the rarity of voter fraud.
“There’s a greater chance of someone getting hit by lightning than voter fraud occurring,” says Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee, and yet tens of thousands of voter applications (primarily from black and Latinx citizens) have been denied for that very reason. It ain’t Christmas yet, but maybe we need black Santa to check the list to see who’s been naughty … and then maybe black Jesus can come and bring judgment?
7. The Purge
It was all up in the news in Georgia last year: The Hancock County Board of Elections of the state reportedly tried to purge 53 voters—predominantly African American—from its records. Plaintiffs say that the board did it to give an advantage to white candidates in the Sparta municipal election and the upcoming 2016 elections. Uh-oh, looks like Georgia’s a repeat offender. Are there three-strikes laws for states? If not, who wants to vote in this poetic justice?
8. The Disenfranchisement Game
A whopping 5.85 million Americans—including 1 in 13 black voters—are prohibited from voting because of felony convictions, according to the Sentencing Project. This has got to stop. When we deny those who have been imprisoned the opportunity to vote, what we are essentially saying is, “Your voice doesn’t matter; you don’t matter.” That makes re-entry into society kind of hard, doesn’t it? It’s almost as if somebody’s trying to kill your spirit.
Here are 8 Ways You Can Fight the Power
The NAACP advises the following:
- Register: Click here to find registration information for every state and request a registration form. Remember: Most states require that registration is done between Oct. 8 and 14, so hurry.
- Volunteer and recruit: Make sure that your friends, especially those who have moved recently or have not voted before, register to vote. Your local NAACP branch has registration events where you can volunteer.
- Vote: Once registered, go to your polling location on Nov. 8 to vote and be heard. If you can, vote early.
- Report: If you observe long lines, intimidation of any kind or hints of voter suppression, report it. You can report any issues prior to or on Nov. 8 at 866-OUR-VOTE.
Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee recommends that you also:
- Check your voter-registration status to make sure that you haven’t been deleted from the roll.
- Confirm your polling location to make sure that it hasn’t changed and that you know exactly where it is.
- Research the absentee rules in your state if you may be out of town on Election Day.
- Double-check the voting hours in your community. You don’t want to miss voting because you thought the poll closed at 9 p.m. instead of 8.
Did you learn something while reading this article? If so, spread the word! Share this article with your friends, your family and your side boo. Lastly, stay in the know. And keep checking back on The Root for additional election news. Stay woke, y’all.
Make sure you protect your vote in this critical election for America. Learn more about how to register and protect your vote here.