Modern Voter Suppression
By Joshua Sager
One of the guiding principles of the United States of America is that the government is elected for the people, by the people. According to our stated ideals, every American citizen, regardless of social station, education, or means, gets one vote with which to weigh into the political process. Politicians are elected to serve the good of the people that they represent and they are held accountable through elections. Because voting is such a vital component of our democracy, no group would ever attempt to intentionally corrupt the process for their own gain, right? Wrong, throughout US history there have been those who want to limit the voting franchise in order to push an agenda or discriminate against a less powerful group.
Historically, the United States has not always practiced a system of equality in voting. Women, Native Americans and African Americans were unable to vote under the law for most of the early years of our country. Not until the 1920 were women allowed to vote in federal elections (state election laws were decided on an individual basis). Even after the civil war and the passing of the 15th Amendment, states would discriminate against African Americans through “poll taxes” or “literacy tests” as a method of keeping them from affecting society. What most of us would like to think is that today, we have evolved past such discriminatory and immoral means of operating our elections, but recent events have shed doubt on this hope.
Unfortunately, recent years have seen a massive resurgence in the effort to limit voting privileges on both the state and federal levels. There are several major types of voter disenfranchisement laws that have gained prevalence in this new round of voter suppression: “Voter I.D.” laws target the poor and students because they are less likely to have the proper types of I.D.; banning convicted felons from voting harms minorities, who are imprisoned at a disproportionately higher rate than Caucasians; shutting down voting locations in demographically poor or minority locations limits the numbers of people who can vote in those places; the reduction of early voting and absentee voting opportunities targets the elderly and disabled, who are often unable to wait in line at the voting booths. There are dozens of ways that interested parties have been attempting to limit certain demographic groups from voting in coming elections. The real question here is “Who benefits from reducing the number of minority, student, disabled and poor voters come election time?”
Even if somebody today were immoral enough to try to corrupt the vote, it would never be the right wing GOP who so love the constitution (or so their constant espousing of their patriotic and constitutional superiority leads some to believe). I mean come on, they run geniuses such as Bachmann, Palin, Santorum, and Trump, and their messages are so uncontroversial as to be universally loved. Their messages of inclusion, progress and tolerance only reject small portions of the population such as the poor, Hispanics, Blacks, young people, gays, Muslims, the unemployed, the sick, and those without lobbying groups in Washington. With such small holes in their support base, what reason could the GOP have to suppress these people’ right to vote?
Voter disenfranchisement today is simply the Republican Party’s attempts to suppress the voter turnout and eligibility of certain types of people who tend not to vote for them or their allies. In modern times, the Democratic Party has virtually no history of voter suppression, in fact the higher the total numbers of voters, the better chance Democrats have to be elected. Groups which vote disproportionately democratic are: Students/the young, first time voters, the poor, union workers, and minorities. All of these groups are in some way harmed by the recent voter suppression bills that have been enacted in the states recently. The two most common voter suppression tactics are decreasing the number of voting places to increase waiting times and increasing the ID requirements to vote.
By increasing the time required to vote, the poor are less able to vote because they cannot spare as much time as the wealthy. Those who are unable to take a day off of work in order to vote are either docked pay for the day or risk more severe consequences. This economic type of voter disenfranchisement is simply the new incarnation of the old poll taxes; those with money or access are able to vote more easily and cheaply than those who do not.
Increasing I.D. requirements by requiring a picture I.D. in order to vote, disproportionately harms students, minorities and the poor because they are less likely to have such I.D. types. Minorities and the poor, particularly those who live in large cities, are far less likely to have driver’s licenses or other picture identification than other demographic groups. Even if a student has a university granted picture I.D. some states will refuse to take them, thus students are also harmed by the I.D. requirements to vote.
In concert with the new government regulations, partisan groups have been working to suppress voter turnout without changing the laws; they do so by using a multitude of dirty tricks. These groups are essentially always right wing corporate groups that pretend to by grassroots populist organizations. Dirty tricks are varied but often involve giving misinformation to voters to make them be unable to vote on time.
1) Sending out disinformation to targeted groups that give the wrong time and place to vote. (Wisconsin/ Michigan)
2) Spreading lies that imply legal consequences to voters who are suspected of fraud, particularly those with family member who are not legal citizens. (Florida)
3) Challenging voters at the polls as to their residency or ability to vote. Gee, I wonder how these people recognize those that they should challenge; it can't be something about skin color, can it?
5) Forming groups that overtly ask people of a single race not to vote ("Hispanic" group in Arizona)
The right wing knows that they cannot win national elections anymore without resorting to voter suppression. Their ideology supports unpopular actions such as endless wars, attacking unions, defunding social programs, and cutting education, thus they have found reducing the number of opposition voters to be the most effective way to win elections. By limiting the ability of those who statistically disagree with you to vote, it is possible to win election, but is it really American?
I want to live in a society where we govern democratically, not through tricks and voter disenfranchisement. I don’t care which party attempts it, voter suppression is immoral and directly at odds with our values as a modern America. Any step backwards, towards the days of the poll taxes, is unacceptable no matter the origin.