Here’s How Voter Suppression Works Against Communities of Color

In a historic moment for America, Stacey Abrams was the first black woman to deliver a State of the Union response this week. Her speech called for compassionate treatment of migrants at the border, job security and fair wages, and affordable healthcare.

Ballot fairness, though, took the limelight as Abrams declared: “Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real.” Abrams was acknowledging, to a national audience, that public officials — especially GOP officials — have been pushing for measures that will have a disproportionate effect on demographics that, in modern history, vote for Democrats.

Here are some of the measures that lead to voter suppression, especially among communities of color:

Voter Purges

Recall that Abrams, the former gubernatorial candidate for Georgia, lost this past election by a small margin against her Republican opponent Brian Kemp who as Secretary of State had placed 50,000 voter registrations on hold when the names on them were not an “exact-match” to state databases. Even a missing hyphen or letter would prevent a voter from participating in the election. He also placed the registrations of several thousand naturalized citizens on hold and attempted to unilaterally trash mailed-in ballots where signature matches were called into question; the court struck down both moves.

After Election Tuesday, while votes were still being tallied, Kemp finally resigned from his position as Secretary of State, a step that many had been demanding he take before voters cast their votes; basically, he was both a candidate in the election as well as a legislator who had influence over voter rolls, which called into question his impartiality. Following the election Abrams began Fair Fight Action, a campaign for ballot fairness.

Like Georgia, a handful of states have a “Use it or Lose it” system set in place for voters — meaning if you don’t exercise your right to vote in a previous election, you get purged from voter rolls. This policy disproportionately affects people of color, according to civil rights groups and Democratic activists who suggest it is used as a voter suppression tactic. In Georgia, the policy effectively purged over 100,000 voters.

Tougher Voter ID Laws

Government officials in Texas issued statements and tweeted out “voter fraud alerts” to the public at the end of January, claiming that tens of thousands of non-U.S. citizens were registered to vote in Texas, almost 58,000 of whom had cast ballots in past state elections. The Texas Director of Elections clarified that these voter matches did not necessarily indicate voter fraud, citing clerical errors, outdated records that did not reflect current citizenship status, and improperly-flagged names.

Nonetheless, President Trump, who has long insisted that American elections are rampant with voter fraud, election rigging, and registrations of undocumented immigrants, eagerly broadcasted allegations of fraud to his followers. “These numbers are just the tip of the iceberg. All over the country, especially in California, voter fraud is rampant. Must be stopped. Strong voter ID!” According to research put out by Harvard University and Tufts University last January, “strong” voter ID laws do not significantly improve accuracy in identifying voters; furthermore, when these laws are applied, they have a disproportionate effect on communities of color.

Closed Voting Sites

Budget cuts are one reason why voting sites have closed over the past several years; according to figures cited by USA Today, urban communities of color lost an average of seven polling sites and hundreds of poll workers between 2012 and 2016. In contrast, predominantly white counties only lost an average of two polling sites and a pair of workers.

Keeping Election Day As Is

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brushed off proposals for Election Day to be made into a national holiday by characterizing the legislation as a “political power grab” funded by American taxpayers, a statement that sparked immediate backlash. If anything, expanding access to voting would be a democratization of the right to vote. “Voting is a power grab. By citizens,” tweeted Senator Brian Schatz of Hawaii.

Making Election Day more accessible by declaring it a holiday is a publically popular proposal — between 60 and 70 percent of all Americans would support the measure — but historically, previous attempts to enact such legislation have failed. The current scheduling of Election Day reflects antiquated economic circumstances that, if updated, would make voting more accessible to low-income voters and single parents. Many other developed democracies hold their elections on weekends as a way to make Election Day more egalitarian. Even simply passing a law requiring employers to offer paid time off for employees to cast their vote would help expand access to this right.

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