What Does Voter Suppression Look Like in 2018?
Voter suppression is deeply rooted in the history of America. From the founding fathers to Jim Crow, limiting access to voting is a well-known strategy for quashing the voices of the disenfranchised in American society. Many today look at the literacy tests, poll taxes, property-ownership requirements, and moral character tests of the past and cringe at the un-Americanness of it all. How could a country founded on the principle in the Declaration of Independence that “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,” egregiously exclude so many from giving their ‘consent’ to the government through voting? The answer is that ever-present specter of prejudice that hangs over our government institutions.
Voter suppression does indeed look much different today than in centuries past. Often, these efforts are paraded under the guise of preventing voter fraud even though the prevalence of fraud is so rare that it practically does not exist. Yet many lawmakers have participated in a systematic effort to suppress the voting abilities of many citizens, primarily low-income individuals and people of color.
There are a number of methods that are utilized to restrict voting. A common legislative strategy is to impose voter identification laws. These laws require an individual to provide some form of proof of identification before they are allowed to register to vote, receive a ballot for an election, or to actually vote. Proponents claim they are necessary to reduce electoral fraud, but opponents say that these laws can in fact impose significant challenges to those who do not maintain driver’s licenses or other forms of state or federal ID. There is a proven racial disparity between those who have access to a viable form of ID and those who do not. A recent example of the failings of this method has emerged in North Dakota, where a new law requires voters to have identification that shows their name, birth date, and residential address. This requirement is problematic because many Native Americans (who make up about 5 percent of North Dakota’s residents) rely on P.O. boxes and do not have residential addresses on reservations. Some have claimed that this law is a politically driven effort to suppress the Native American vote.
Another high-profile suppression tactic that has received a lot of public attention this midterm election season is purging of voter rolls. When done with the utmost care, purging of voter registration lists ensures that voter rolls are dependable, accurate, and up-to-date by removing duplicate names and individuals who have moved, died, or are otherwise ineligible. Problems arise when eligible, registered citizens are purged from voter rolls. Voter purges have historically been fraught with incidences of improper deletion of voters, inaccurate lists, and faulty databases which result in disenfranchised voters. In addition, some states have imposed strict voting requirements for registered voters. For example, under the state of Ohio’s policy if registered voters miss two years, they are sent registration confirmation notices. If they do not respond and do not vote over the following four years, they are purged. Five other states remove voters from their registration list for failure to vote, but analysists have stated that Ohio’s is the most aggressive. And like other voter suppression methods, minority and low-income voters are disproportionately affected.
Voter ID laws and voter purges are only two examples from the arsenal of voter suppression tactics. Other examples include early voting limitations, felon disenfranchisement, and inequality in election day resources to name just a few more. Voting is still an inequitable activity in this country. It is important that we acknowledge this and advocate for equitable reforms in our election systems. As a voter, it is your civic duty to stay informed and engaged. There are tons of voter guides out there that you can find with a Google search and we urge you to check them out. Our colleagues at Just Harvest created a helpful voter guide for Allegheny County residents that is accessible and informative. Stay informed, stay engaged, and remember that your vote MATTERS.
Hello! My name is Kara Hoffman and I am a graduate intern at Three Rivers Community Foundation. I am currently studying at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Social Work with a Community, Organization, and Social Action (COSA) concentration. I have a passion for serving victims of discrimination, oppression, and injustice in any form. I am also a Pittsburgh native and a proud lover of bridges, pierogi, and Steelers football. I enjoy engaging with the progressive social change community!
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