Voter Suppression: What is it and How Can We Challenge it?

Featured Image: The Atlantic

Voter suppression, in U.S. history and politics, is the measure to reduce voting or registering to vote by members of a targeted group. The overwhelming majority of victims of voter suppression in the United States have been African Americans. Voter suppression has been practiced in the United States since Reconstruction when African Americans in the states of the former Confederacy were granted the right to vote and run for local, state, and federal offices. 

But how is voter suppression relevant now? According to New York Times reporter David Leonhardt, “In almost every instance, Democrats are trying to make it easier for Americans to cast ballots, and Republicans are trying to make it harder.”  

The United States has made it more difficult to vote than any other affluent democracy. America is one of seven countries in the 37-member Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that don’t hold elections on a weekend or a holiday (NYT). In addition, as we’ve seen throughout the country, lines to vote have become exceedingly long. This issue may be due to shortages of equipment and poll workers, causing unreasonably long waits, especially for Black voters. In 2016, voters in Black neighborhoods waited 29% longer on average than voters in white neighborhoods (NYT). 

The Times columnist Jamelle Bouie argues, “For most workers, time spent in line is money in the form of lost wages and labor hours. For low-income workers, in particular, long lines may prove so economically ruinous that they may not vote at all. Given the uneven distribution of long lines, this is the point.”

Unfortunately, long lines are one of the many measures taken to reduce voter turnout. In St. Petersburg, Florida, two people dressed as armed security guards were reported outside an early voting site on October 21st (USA Today). According to a local media report, the man and woman told police that President Trump’s campaign hired them as a clear act of intimidation (USA Today).

Similarly, some polling places are attempting to reject voters who chose to display their beliefs on their clothing. A poll worker in Memphis, Tennessee, was fired last week for turning voters away who were wearing masks and T-shirts that read “Black Lives Matter.” (USA Today).  

A number of measures have been taken to reduce the voter turnout of marginalized groups, though there are ways you can protect yourself. Voter intimidation is, in fact, deemed illegal, and you may alert the municipal clerk or election officials at your polling location. In addition, you can document the conduct and call for election protection at 866-OUR-VOTE. To my fellow students and teachers, try your best not to be intimidated if your vote is challenged, because the right to vote is an imperative part of our democracy.

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