Election fraud has been one of the most prominent political talking points of the past four years, and the very crux of a democracy is free and fair elections, where one of the most important aspects of free and fair elections is allowing every citizen to vote in order to voice their opinion. When regimes start attempting to suppress votes and voter turnout in upcoming elections, this is a very serious threat to democracy. In the lead up to the 2020 presidential election in November, the various examples of voter suppression, specifically voter roll purges, have been attempted in order to prevent turnout in key battleground states for the 2020 election.
Voter suppression is a concerted, intentional effort to restrict access to, and prevent voting from certain segments of a population in order to influence the outcome of an election. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, methods of voter suppression used in the United States include voter ID laws, voter registration restrictions, voter roll purging, and felon disenfranchisement. All these methods of voter suppression occur frequently in America, and some receive more attention than others. In the leadup to the 2020 election, voter roll purges have been the main form of recent voter suppression.
In order to understand why voter suppression is a threat to American democracy, it is important to understand that the right for every citizen to vote is a fundamental part of democracy. According to political scholar Robert Dahl, the three fundamental requirements for a democracy are the opportunity to formulate preferences, signify preferences, and have preferences weighted equally, with the right to vote as a key defining feature of signifying preferences .
Recently, voter suppression achieved through the purging of voter rolls has been conducted by Republican officials in 2020 battleground states such as Georgia and Wisconsin. In an effort led by Republican secretary of state Brad Raffensberger in late December, “a federal judge allowed the secretary of state’s office to remove about 4 percent of registered voters from the rolls,” which included “more than 120,000 people… simply because they hadn’t voted since 2012 or responded to mailings from the state” .
Furthermore, in early December over 230,000 people were purged from voter rolls in Wisconsin, a state Donald Trump narrowly won in 2016, and in Ohio 235,000 voters were purged from state rolls, and “early 1 in 5 names on the list — roughly 40,000 people — should not have been on it” .
Voter purges like the aforementioned cases pose a grave threat to American democracy, as they disproportionately target minorities and other disadvantaged communities in order to silence them and suppress their vote, disallowing them from voicing their opinion and challenging their participatory rights. The purging of voter rolls in Georgia and Wisconsin specifically target black and Latino voters, and in Wisconsin, “More than half of the Elections Commission’s letters went to municipalities where Democrat Hillary Clinton won more votes than Trump in 2016.” . These voter purges are a clear political strategy by one political party to undermine the electoral process, and this strategy was admitted by an advisor to Donald Trump’s reelection campaign, who was caught on recording saying that the Republican party “has ‘traditionally’ relied on voter suppression to compete in battleground states” .
Many of the voters who were purged from voter rolls have not voted at least since 2012, and if they were turn out to vote in the 2020 presidential election, they would not be able to perform their right as an American citizen, and there’s often no way of knowing for these voters that their registration has been removed, and in states like Georgia and Ohio, there is no same day voter registration , rendering it impossible for those citizens to vote. While Wisconsin does allow for same day registration, paper work is needed to register, and often the cost of procuring the necessary documents is too great for the disadvantaged communities that voter suppression targets, leading to the silencing of these voters’ voices at the ballot box even in states where the voting laws seem more fair.
While on paper voter purges in important electoral states may look like simple bureaucratic upkeep before an election, it is in reality a partisan effort that violates the democratic norm of forbearance and uses the full extent of the law to target and suppress the votes of minorities and poor voters in key battleground states. The right of every citizen to voice their opinion is fundamental to democracy, and the intentional undermining of this fundamental right through voter suppression represents a serious threat to American democracy. The more actions like this are allowed by states and federal judges, the further American democracy erodes. Dahl, Robert. 1972. Polyarchy: Participation and Opposition. New Haven:Yale University Press.  Thebault, Reis. 2019. Georgia purged 309,000 voters from its rolls. It’s the second state to make cuts in less than a week. The Washington Post.  Iati, Marisa. 2019. A judge ordered up to 234,000 people to be tossed from the registered voter list in a swing state. The Washington Post.  Bauer, Scott. 2019. Trump adviser: Expect more aggressive poll watching in 2020. AP.  National Conference of State Legislatures. 2019. Same Day Voter Registration. NCSL.
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