Voter turnout has been studied for decades. Demographics of voting and registered voters changes with every election, presidential or not, each vote is counted for a statistic. Now, in saying that, it is also essential to state that every single vote matters. No voice is too loud or small when it comes to voting. If anything, these statistics on voter turnout help society see who’s voting, what groups of people are voting for what parties, and ultimately, what voter suppression may look like in 2020. With voter suppression still being prevalent in today’s society, one must look at what’s happening in communities to lead to these types of discrepancies within the system. What’s stopping certain groups of people from voting during elections? Moreover, what are the tones set in communities that have lower rates of voter turnout?
Voter suppression is the act of using certain strategies to influence certain groups of people to not vote or participate in civic duties. To be frank, America has displayed various methods of voter suppression that disproportionately impact people of color. Since 1776, black and brown citizens have struggled with receiving their right to vote. In an article discussing the history of voter suppression, New Jersey quickly passed a law in 1776 that disenfranchised all women and black men from voting. Even after black men and women were released from being slaves in plantations and the 15th amendment was put into place, states were still given the power to dictate elections as they saw fit. A long history of elections after the civil war still left black voters, which were also all-male, at a disadvantage. Voting percentages in Mississippi went down from 90% to 6% as the state declared that only those who had grandfathers that were qualified to vote pre-Civil war were allowed to vote in elections. From poll taxes to literacy tests, Jim Crow laws were in full effect and affected all black and brown voters up until 1965. Even when women were all given the right to vote, white women were the only ones that reaped the benefits of suffrage. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is the most notable act put into place regarding voter suppression, as the majority of society thought that this marked the end of voter suppression. However, contrary to the laws put into place to protect voters from disenfranchisement, the act of voter suppression is not just a ‘thing of the past’.
To speak on voter suppression is to make it very apparent that the system in which we currently use to vote isn’t one in which serves equity. Voter suppression can be identified in many different ways. Polling places will turn away voters because they don’t have correct identification or because they display their partisanship through t-shirts. Even the simple notion of not having enough polling centers are acts of voter suppression that still happen today. Several marginalities cause disadvantages for individuals. In an article by the American Civil Liberties Union on voter suppression, voter ID laws are found in thirty-six states. About seven of those states have strict laws on voter identification. The number of people disproportionately impacted by a simple identification requirement can equal tens of thousands of voters in a single municipality. Something as simple as identification also speaks to a lack of systemic inequality and inequity. Access to IDs can be expensive in some areas, leaving low-income voters at a disadvantage. And if we take a look at statistics, the same people who show up to the polls each election are upper-class citizens. There are significant differences in voting when it comes to low-income communities vs. richer communities.
To show how voter suppression disproportionately impacts certain groups within society, one can look at the difference between low-income communities and voter turnout vs. richer communities in America. For instance, Philadelphia is known for its colleges, ambiance, and cheesesteaks like no other city. It’s also known for large groups of minority populations within small areas like North Philadelphia. In an article discussing voter turnouts within low-income communities, the poverty rates within two zip codes in North Philadelphia are 50.2% and 36%. There is no secret when it comes to low-income communities having lower numbers of voters. But, why? Why would the communities that seem to need the most aid and attention disregard their civic duty? Because of fewer polling places, the lines of the polling places that are available tend to be longer. Because of the need to work to provide for your family, there isn’t much of a choice when it becomes an ultimatum of work or voting? Because of the lack of change in these places that continue to struggle with high poverty rates, there isn’t much belief that ‘change can happen’ through the politicians that are elected. In a survey measuring voter turnout in correlation to family income, people with an income of $150,000 or more had 86 percent of voters in 2016. Resources and education have a big impact on voting. The people who are from these low-income communities are almost forgotten about when it comes time for the government to institute a change. If the people feel they aren’t being represented or protected, the whole neighborhood begins to emulate that ideology and leads to more and more people neglecting the idea of ‘voting for change’.
Suppression isn’t just an issue of class, it’s a systemic issue that has impacted black voters throughout the history of the country. As discussed before, black women received their right to vote long after the 21st amendment was passed, which gave white women the right to vote. States like Georgia, in past years, had required voter registration information to match records. This was known as the “exact-match” law. As a result, almost 70% of the voter registrations that were denied due to small minuscule errors such as “missing hyphens and apostrophes, added single spaces or characters, and transposed letters”, were from black voters. States like Iowa that have some of the highest incarceration rates for Black Americans also have some of the strictest voting laws. Voters who had been involved in the criminal justice system became disenfranchised permanently, leaving one in four voting-age black men without a vote. About 1 in 13 Black Americans have lost their right to vote due to disenfranchisement laws within different states. Since 2012, county officials in Georgia removed 214 voting precincts, most of them located in communities with predominantly low-income and Black voters.
Even now in 2020, Black voters have still been affected by voter suppression in states such as Michigan. Michigan is home to about 1 million eligible black voters and is also infamously known as a battleground state when it comes to presidential elections. Voters from cities in Detroit have filed a lawsuit against Trump’s reelection campaign. This group noted that Trump’s attempt at “repeating false claims of voter fraud” and “pressuring state and local officials in Michigan not to count votes from Wayne County, Michigan” is a method of voter suppression in which thousands of Black voters would be disenfranchised. Black Americans have been fighting for the voice in our countries democracy since this country was established in 1776. The act of revoking a civic duty from someone because of their race is denying the idea of this country being an ‘equal opportunity’ for all.
Just because something doesn’t immediately impact you, doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Voter suppression isn’t just a term loosely used to describe the Jim Crow era or the time before The Voting Rights Act of 1965. It’s bigger than just blaming a certain group of people for not voting. In order to truly rid the system of voter suppression, reform needs to be done on all levels to provide a fair vote for all.