An overview of the issues
What are the major methods used to suppress voting?
Creating obstacles to voter registration
- Voting ID laws have now become ubiquitous, but offer a ‘solution’ to a problem of voter fraud that simply does not exist on any significant scale. States vary in their requirements for documentation to identity and the ways in which an approved Voter ID can be obtained. They disadvantage a wide range of voters: young, poor, women, the elderly and more through the types of ID required, the costs of obtaining them and the way they are managed. The unequal impact on ethnic minorities, especially African Americans has been reliably demonstrated. Voting Rights activists see these laws as functioning as a new ‘poll tax’. See these Brennan Center Reports.
- Laws restricting the work of organizations organizing voter registration drives..
- Purging voter rolls: via the use of various mechanisms and criteria.
- ‘Caging’ refers to when a political party sends registered mail to addresses of registered voters. If the mail is returned as undeliverable, the mailing organization uses that fact to challenge the registration, arguing that because the voter could not be reached at the address, the registration is fraudulent.
- Felon disenfranchisement.
Creating obstacles and confusion about voting
- Restricted early voting.
- Since the 2020 election and provisions then made to allow more flexibility in ‘mail-in voting’ and methods for ‘dropping-off’ ballots, many Republican state legislatures have begun to roll back these provisions and impose more restrictions.
- The ‘gutting’ of the Voting Rights Act.
- Inadequate and unequal resourcing for the administration of elections: insufficient or unequal allocation of the number/locations of polling stations and the number of voting machines
- Disinformation about voting procedures and deadlines.
What is gerrymandering? What are ‘districts’? How is redistricting undertaken?
Gerrymandering is the creation of electoral districts in order to achieve a partisan advantage. Most of our federal legislators, all of our state legislators and many of our local legislators in towns and counties are elected from districts. Districts divide states and the people who live there into geographical territories for representation and therefore voting.
In most states, districts are drawn up by state legislators, with governors often holding veto power. Some states have independent commissions, while others have ‘political commissions’ . The decision about how to draw up districts is left to state legislatures or in some cases, ballot initiatives. This is why participating in state level elections is so important.
Redistricting is the way in which the districts are adjusted. The next redistricting is due in 2023 – 2022 and will be based on the Census. That is why filling out the Census is so important. In addition, redistricting can be mandated as a result of challenges in the courts.
In 2010 the Republican State Leadership Committee launched their REDMAP Project which was devoted to securing control of state legislatures in order to control redistricting and thereby gain more representatives at both state and federal levels.
The Economist found that “in the 2012 redistricting cycle, the boundaries of 48% of House districts were drawn entirely by Republican officials, compared with just 10% by Democratic ones.”
To find out more about redistricting: Read “All about redistricting” : Professor Justin Levitt’s guide to drawing the electoral lines. A good general source that is regularly updated.
Who is impacted by voter suppression?
The demonstrable effect of all the measures listed above has always been to suppress the Democratic vote, because those disproportionally affected have always been the poor, people of color, young people, the elderly, and people with disabilities. In 2021, many Republicans, while still claiming the aim of combating (non-existent) voter fraud, have been more overt in speaking about the fact that their path to electoral success relies upon fewer people voting. Some of the recent provisions, for example in Georgia, are surgically precise in targeting the African American community, for example, the proposed (but withdrawn) ban on Sunday voting.
Who is promoting voter suppression?
There are several right-wing organizations, think-tanks and activist campaigns that promote legislation and tactics that result in voter suppression.
In 2020 many Republican Party officials, donors and activists collaborated with the Trump campaign to initiate and support the well-known-but failed-challenges to the election results in key states. Following the election, there have been many familiar ‘dark money’ groups, for example, those associated with the Koch and Mercer families, as well as less familiar donors supporting opposition to the For the People Act and supporting Republican state legislatures enacting new restrictions on access to voting.
In the past, the conservative The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) was one of the most important drivers in drafting ‘model legislation’ that was widely adopted by Republican state legislators. Its projects covered a wide range of issues – for example, environmental, voting, and gun rights, ALEC authored the “Stand your Ground” gun legislation adopted in many states.
Until 2011, its activities were little known outside political circles. In July 2011, The Nation published a series of articles produced in collaboration with the Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) that showcased some of the ALEC model bills and described the ties to the Koch family. CMD launched a website “ALEC Exposed” that documented more than 800 of ALEC’s model bills, named the legislators and corporations that had helped to draft them, and the states that enacted them. The joint effort, and particularly its coverage of ALEC’s push for tough voter ID laws, prompted the advocacy group Color of Change to launch a public campaign to pressure corporations to withdraw their ALEC memberships.” ALEC remains a significant force in developing right-wing legislation on a wide range of issues, but is now subject to much more scrutiny.
What is being done to combat voter suppression, extend and protect voting rights and ensure our votes are counted?
Democrats Abroad has a dedicated team working to protect Overseas Americans’ votes! Find out more here.
The Senate is now holding hearings on the For the People Act which has already been passed by the House of Representatives. Its passage would represent a major blow to efforts to suppress voting and would also institute other major reforms to the operation of our elections. See the Brennan Center’s report on the Act and what it would achieve here.
The number and range of organizations devoted to protecting voting rights in the USA has expanded since 2016. The level of activism in 2018 and 2020 was particularly high, and they are already preparing for the 2022 elections.
Their activities range from:
– Litigation: challenges in the courts,
– Research and investigations on the impact and operation of laws and regulations and the ‘motivations’ and support behind them,
– Ballot initiatives on extending voting rights,
– Activism on a range of issues: e.g. providing support for people to gain the required Voter IDs.
Current legislation on Voting Rights
At the federal level:
The House passed the For the People bill on March 8, 2019, and on March 24, 2021, the Senate opened its hearings. This is seen by Democrats as the most important voting rights legislation since the Voting Rights Act of 1965. See the Brennan Center’s report on the Act and what it would achieve here.
Senator Warnock gave his powerful maiden speech about its importance. You can watch it here.
At the state level:
The Brennan Center March 2021 update on voting laws notes that there are over 360 bills proposed in 47 state legislatures that would restrict voting rights. Proposals in Georgia have received particular notoriety.
On the positive side, they also note that there are 843 bills pending or proposed in a different set of 47 states that would expand access to voting. While many of these pro-voting rights reforms have been introduced in states like New York (with 87 expansive bills) and New Jersey (with 38)… a significant number of these proposals have been introduced in states with histories of voter suppression, including Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. Automatic Voter Registration has now been adopted by 19 states. Since its introduction in Oregon in 2015, the impact of AVR is still being assessed, but is widely supported.
Interviews on voting rights, gerrymandering and protecting our votes
Stacey Abrams has been at the forefront in working against voter suppression and ensuring that every vote is counted.
Watch her address to Democrats Abroad UK – in September 2018 in her campaign for Governor.
Below is her response to the State of the Union Address – January, 2019.
“Let’s be clear. Voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy. While I acknowledge the results of the 2018 election here in Georgia, I did not and we cannot accept efforts to undermine our right to vote.”
Gerrymandering and Redistricting
David Daley is one of the foremost researchers and activists on the issue of gerrymandering. Here he discusses these issues, his most recent book Unrigged, and the film Slay the Dragon.
President Obama and former Attorney General Eric Holder founded the National Democratic Redistricting Committee to promote fair redistricting.
Get Out The Vote and Protect The Vote
Register to vote and request your ballot every election year!
Protecting The Votes of Americans Abroad
Find out what Democrats Abroad is doing to promote, extend and protect our votes.
Campaigns and Organizations Dedicated to Protecting and Expanding Voter Rights and Voting
There are hundreds of US campaigning organizations devoted to every aspect of promoting GOTV and protecting voting rights.
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