Voter suppression has been a significant issue in American history and politics. Historically, voter suppression has been a form of discrimination used to deny voting access to targeted communities.
In the United States, voter suppression disproportionately affects lower-income Americans and people of color. They face more barriers than higher-income citizens to vote, including a lack of transportation and childcare access.
Criminalization of the Ballot Box
Voter suppression is a strategy that keeps people from voting by restricting access to the ballot box or making it harder for people to register. In the United States, voter suppression has a long history – from poll taxes, literacy tests, and state violence in the Jim Crow era to the enactment of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.
In recent years, a new wave of voter suppression laws has swept the country. These laws put barriers in front of the ballot box, restricting registration and purging voters from the rolls. They also make it harder for people to vote by cutting early-voting periods, requiring IDs, and making it more difficult for racial minorities, poor people, young people, and older Americans to participate in elections.
Despite widespread opposition from voters and election officials, legislators are enacting these laws. These laws are based on conspiracy theories and often involve a variety of false information that threatens the integrity of elections and is designed to dissuade people from voting or engaging in other electoral activities.
The laws also criminalize the collection of mail-in ballots and other harmless election activities. For example, in Montana, a person working with a get-out-the-vote organization on the Blackfeet Indian Reservation who wants to collect and drop off ballots would be facing stiff penalties. This law is a dangerous threat to the integrity of the voting process and is being used to target Native American communities.
Restricting Voter Registration
The restrictions on voter registration are another form of discrimination and intimidation that states use to suppress the voting rights of disenfranchised or underrepresented people. These laws often target specific groups based on race, ethnicity, political affiliation, age, or other aspects of their identity.
Restricting voter registration is especially troubling because it can target vulnerable voters, such as the elderly and those with disabilities. In addition, it can be a tool for partisan politicians to target voters with whom they disagree or to dilute their influence.
In the wake of record-level turnout in 2020, some states have enacted laws that make it harder for eligible voters to register and vote. It includes new ID requirements, a ban on mail-in absentee ballots, and restrictive polling place hours.
These measures can directly impact elections, particularly in states where political power is still heavily in the hands of Republicans and population growth is more likely to be found in Democratic areas. In some cases, these new restrictions help maintain a revolving door of political leadership that favors the party in power and exacerbates existing racial tensions.
Purging Voters from the Rolls
Typically, states clean up their voter rolls by running background checks and deleting people who have moved or died. List maintenance is a necessary step to keep voter registration lists accurate.
But when done without safeguards, this process can also lead to removing eligible voters based on inaccurate data or for other reasons, known as a purge. Often, voters are only aware they’ve been purged once they appear at the polls on election day.
A recent study by professionals like NAACPLDF.org shows that the number of people purged from the voter rolls has increased in many states. It’s a trend that’s accelerated since the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Shelby County, which allowed states with a history of voting discrimination to update their policies without federal oversight.
The report also found that right-wing populist leaders, such as President Trump and his allies, have gained more control over elections by systematically excluding voters of color. Similarly, groups like the conservative American Civil Rights Union have targeted and sued counties with high Latino or Black populations.
As it stands, state law gives secretaries of state the power to remove any registered voter who has yet to vote in two consecutive elections. It can be done through mail or a computer program. It’s a process called use-it-or-lose-it voting, pervasive in Mississippi. In addition, the state is now using citizenship databases to purge noncitizens from its voter rolls.
Requiring Voter ID
Voter ID laws require voters to provide a specific form of photo identification when they register or vote. It is an important security measure and a necessary component of the integrity of the election process.
In many states, voters can obtain a free voter ID card from their county clerk or Board of Elections. However, in other states, it costs money and can be difficult for poor people or in rural areas to obtain a photo ID.
A lack of access to IDs can impact anyone in the United States, especially young people, the elderly, and people of color. It can prevent them from obtaining work permits or accessing social services like food banks.
Proponents of voter ID argue that it can help prevent in-person voter impersonation and increase public confidence in the election process. Opponents say that it imposes an undue burden on voters and costs too much for state governments to administer.
Despite claims of voter suppression, little rigorous research has been conducted to determine whether requiring voters to present ID affects turnout. In one study of Tennessee and Virginia, researchers found that requiring voters to produce an ID had no significant effect on turnout.
In states where voters must show a photo ID when they vote, this is usually done by asking for a driver’s license or another form of identification that includes a photograph and is issued by the government. Other forms of identification that can be used to verify voter identity include birth certificates, passports, and other non-photo IDs.