Any effort to keep some Americans from signing up to vote or casting ballots is known as voter suppression.
It takes many forms, from discriminatory voter ID requirements to reduced polling places in communities of color and eliminating early voting opportunities.
It is a dangerous trend that targets the most vulnerable groups in our society. It disenfranchises women, people of color, the disabled, queer & trans folk, the elderly, and college students.
It’s Disenfranchising People of Color
Voter suppression is a broad term that refers to various legal or extralegal measures that limit or discourage the voting rights of voters, typically in a way that disproportionately disenfranchises people of color. It can include strict voter identification laws, voter roll purges, gerrymandering, and felon disenfranchisement.
Strict voter ID requirements are among the most common forms of voter suppression. They make it difficult to obtain photo identification and can result in long lines at the polls or a lack of accessible polling locations.
Other tactics include voter roll purges, which remove names from the voter rolls based on racial profiling and other discriminatory practices. They disproportionately affect Black and Latinx voters and have been linked to higher rates of voter fraud.
These tactics also increase voter confusion and delay polling, especially for people who rely on mail-in voting. In addition, they can exacerbate existing inequalities between affluent and poor communities.
Another tactic is criminalizing the act of voting, particularly in states with a history of racism and incarceration. You may learn more about felony disenfranchisement laws in many conditions, which limit voting power and make it more difficult for ex-offenders to participate in the democratic process by visiting sites such as NAACPLDF.org
In the United States, the history of felony disenfranchisement is complicated. The methods of felony disenfranchisement have been utilized to disenfranchise people of color in ways intended to stifle their political voice and involvement, as Public Integrity reported earlier this year.
It’s Disenfranchising People with Disabilities
One in five Americans has a disability, making them a significant voting bloc. But voter participation among people with disabilities is often lower than among their non-disabled counterparts. And, despite decades of advocacy, polling places continue to have accessibility barriers that block many voters from casting ballots.
For instance, Rutgers University researchers found that 60% of polling locations have physical impediments that make it difficult for people with disabilities to access the voting booth. These can include steep ramps and poor path surfaces, making it hard for people with mobility impairments to navigate or get to a polling location.
Voting access can also be made more difficult by voter ID laws and restrictions on mail-in ballots. These practices disproportionately disadvantage disabled voters, who may go through multiple steps to cast their vote, relying on caregivers, friends, and family members to help them.
Policymakers can address some of these issues by adopting pro-voter policies, such as Election Day holidays and AVR programs that are exclusively operated out of DMVs. However, these solutions should be carefully considered to avoid unintended consequences for people with disabilities.
Other forms of voter suppression, such as laws that require proof of citizenship or ID to vote, reducing polling place hours in communities of color, or banning early and absentee voting, are also significant disenfranchisement problems for people with disabilities. Laws such as SB 1 passed in Texas last year, for example, have the potential to disenfranchise a lot of disabled voters.
It’s Disenfranchising Young People
When young people cannot engage in politics, it impacts how their voices are heard. In political systems, all parts of society need to be included to ensure that government is representative and responsive to the concerns of its citizens.
It is why young people must be engaged in political processes and elections. Their involvement in the decision-making process can make a big difference to the future of their country and their lives.
But voter suppression often makes it harder for young people to vote and affects their ability to engage in elections fully. Strict voter ID laws, voter roll purges, felony disenfranchisement, and other strategies that make it more challenging for young people to vote can be used to implement them.
In the United States, these tactics have a long and ugly history. But they are resurfacing with a vengeance, and we must stand up against them.
Across the country, Republicans are using every tool to make it more difficult for young people to vote. They are doing this by introducing bills that ban voting from an address where you don’t live full-time, making it easier to get a voter ID that doesn’t match your current appearance and forbidding students from registering to vote at their college address. These are all evident efforts to diminish the power of the youngest Americans, and it is time for lawmakers to stop these attacks on democracy.
It’s Disenfranchising Women
In America, voter suppression has a long and shameful history, but it again reemerges with a vengeance. Women, young people, the poor, and members of ethnic minorities are disproportionately impacted by legislation that erects obstacles in the way of voting, such as stringent voter ID laws, shorter voting hours, restrictions on registration and purging voter records.
Many of these laws target voters of color, immigrant voters, LGBTQ voters, and disabled voters – all of whom are underrepresented in our electoral system. We need to continue working on ensuring that all Americans are genuinely enfranchised.
In the last two decades, Republicans have put a lot of barriers in front of the ballot box. These include felony disenfranchisement laws that strip people convicted of certain felonies of their right to vote, voter roll purges (removing voters who have moved or whose addresses don’t match), and inaccessible polling places, such as COVID-19.
These laws disproportionately impact women, who face voter ID laws that penalize them for not legally changing their names at marriage or divorce, as well as early and no-excuse absentee voting restrictions. Additionally, they make it harder for women juggling work and family obligations to exercise their right to vote.
As social worker students, we can help address this critical issue and fight against voter suppression on every front. We can educate ourselves about systems of oppression, support our community members’ voting rights, and advocate for pro-voter policies to ensure that all Americans are genuinely enfranchised.