Voter Suppression

Voter Suppression is reducing the number of votes cast by a targeted group by making it harder or impossible for its members to vote.

Contents

Voter Suppression

  • Voter Suppression is reducing the number of votes cast by a targeted group by making it harder or impossible for its members to vote.
  • Definitions
    • britannica.com/topic/voter-suppression
      • Voter suppression is any legal or extralegal measure or strategy whose purpose or practical effect is to reduce voting, or registering to vote, by members of a targeted racial group, political party, or religious community.
    • wikipedia.org/wiki/Voter_suppression
      • Voter suppression is a strategy used to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting.
    • boundless.com
      • Voter suppression is a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing people from exercising their right to vote.

Kinds of Voter Suppression

Forms of Voter Suppression, The Voting Rights Alliance

History of Voter Suppression in the US

Voting in the U.S.A Britannica
  • The Constitution doesn’t specify who can vote. That’s left to the states.
  • In the first presidential election (1789), voters were almost all landowning white Protestant males. 
  • By the 1860s white males largely enjoyed universal suffrage
  • While voting rights expanded for some, states began enacting laws that barred women, African Americans, Native Americans, and many immigrants from casting ballots. 
  • After slavery ended, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, guaranteeing the right to vote to all men, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 
  • Southern states subsequently suppressed the black vote through intimidation and other measures, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.
  • By the early 20th century, nearly all African Americans had been disenfranchised in the South.
  • In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, extending suffrage to women. 
  • Native Americans gained suffrage in 1957.
    • Until 1957 some states barred Native Americans from voting, since the right to vote is governed by state law
  • As late as the mid-1960s fewer than 7 percent of blacks were registered to vote in Mississippi. 
  • In 1964 the Twenty-fourth Amendment was adopted, prohibiting poll taxes in federal elections. 
  • In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was signed, which banned efforts to deny voting rights, such as literacy tests.
  • In 1971 the Twenty-sixth Amendment extended suffrage to citizens at least 18.
  • Some states passed strict voter ID requirements supposedly to prevent voter fraud, though critics argued the real purpose was to suppress voting. Some of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional.
Black Voting Rights since 1900 (Britannica)
  • 1900 Blacks in South are effectively disenfranchised by
    • poll taxes
    • literacy tests
    • grandfather clauses for literacy tests
    • whites-only primaries
  • 1915 Guinn v. United States
    • Struck down grandfather clause exemptions to literacy tests
  • 1937 Breedlove v. Suttles
    • Upheld a Georgia poll tax (because the tax applied to all voters)
  • 1944 Smith v. Allwright
    • Struck down whites-only primaries
  • 1964 Twenty-fourth Amendment
    • Prohibited poll taxes in federal elections
  • 1965 Voting Rights Act
    • Preclearance: provided for federal approval of proposed changes to voting laws or procedures for jurisdictions that had previously used tests to determine voter eligibility
    • Suspended literacy tests
    • Directed the Attorney General to challenge poll taxes for state and local elections.
  • 2013 Shelby County v. Holder
    • Struck down the Preclearance section of the Voting Rights Act, removing the preclearance requirement for:
      • Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, South Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Alaska, Arizona and parts of seven other states.

Denying Suffrage

Britannica: Voting in the U.S.A
  • The Constitution doesn’t specify who can vote. That’s left to the states.
  • In the first presidential election (1789), voters were almost all landowning white Protestant males. 
  • By the 1860s white males largely enjoyed universal suffrage
  • While voting rights expanded for some, states began enacting laws that barred women, African Americans, Native Americans, and many immigrants from casting ballots. 
  • After slavery ended, the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified in 1870, guaranteeing the right to vote to all men, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.” 
  • Southern states subsequently suppressed the black vote through intimidation and other measures, such as poll taxes and literacy tests.
  • By the early 20th century, nearly all African Americans had been disenfranchised in the South.
  • In 1920 the Nineteenth Amendment was ratified, extending suffrage to women. 
  • Native Americans gained suffrage in 1957.
    • Until 1957 some states barred Native Americans from voting, since the right to vote is governed by state law
  • As late as the mid-1960s fewer than 7 percent of blacks were registered to vote in Mississippi. 
  • In 1964 the Twenty-fourth Amendment was adopted, prohibiting poll taxes in federal elections. 
  • In 1965 the Voting Rights Act was signed, which banned efforts to deny voting rights, such as literacy tests.
  • In 1971 the Twenty-sixth Amendment extended suffrage to citizens at least 18.
  • Some states passed strict voter ID requirements supposedly to prevent voter fraud, though critics argued the real purpose was to suppress voting. Some of these laws have been ruled unconstitutional.
Felon Voting Rights
  • State Felon Voting Laws (Britannica ProCon.org)
    • Depending on the state:
      • A felon may vote from prison
      • A felon’s vote is restored after prison
      • A felon’s vote is restored after prison and parole
      • A felon’s vote is restored after prison, parole, and probation
      • A felon may lose the vote permanently

Voter ID Laws

Voter ID Laws
Excerpt from How Democracies Die, Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt
  • Efforts to discourage voting are fundamentally anti-democratic, and they have a particularly deplorable history in the United States. Although contemporary voter-restriction efforts are nowhere near as far-reaching as those undertaken by southern Democrats in the late nineteenth century, they are nevertheless significant.
  • The push for voter ID laws was based on a false claim: that voter fraud is widespread in the United States. All reputable studies have concluded that levels of such fraud in this country are low. Yet Republicans began to push for measures to combat this nonexistent problem.
  • According to a July 2017 Morning Consult/Politico poll, 47 percent of Republicans believed that Trump won the popular vote, compared to 40 percent who believed Hillary Clinton won. In other words, about half of self-identified Republicans said they believe that American elections are massively rigged.
Debunked claim that voter fraud is widespread
Requiring Proof of Citizenship
  • Judge Rejects Kansas Law Requiring Voters to Show Proof of Citizenship, NYT June 2018
    • A restrictive law on voting in Kansas championed by Kris W. Kobach, the secretary of state, was struck down on Monday by a federal judge who said Mr. Kobach had failed during a trial to show evidence of widespread voter fraud.
    • The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit against Mr. Kobach in 2016 on behalf of the League of Women Voters and individual Kansans, arguing that the law disenfranchised people who were attempting to register legally but did not have access to the required documents.
    • Federal District Judge Julie A. Robinson of Kansas said in her 188-page ruling that while there was evidence of a “small number of noncitizen registrations in Kansas, it is largely explained by administrative error, confusion, or mistake.” 
  • Supreme Court won’t revive Kansas voting law requiring proof of citizenship, WaPo December 2020
    • The Supreme Court declined Monday to revive a Kansas law that required showing specific proof-of-citizenship documents before registering to vote, ending a fight that had continued for years.
    • The court did not give a reason for rejecting the appeal of the state’s new secretary of state, Scott Schwab. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly (D) had opposed the effort asking for Supreme Court review.

Cost of Voting Index

Voting by State from Easiest to Hardest

  • The ‘Cost’ of Voting in America: A Look at Where It’s Easiest and Hardest NYT
    • The findings are part of the 2022 edition of the Cost of Voting Index, a nonpartisan academic study that seeks to cut through the politics of voting access. The study ranks all 50 states based on the overall investment a resident must make, in time and resources, to vote.
    • Researchers focused on 10 categories related to voting, including registration, inconvenience, early voting, polling hours and absentee voting.
    • The study was first drawn up by professors from Northern Illinois University, Jacksonville University and Wuhan University in 2018 as a means of looking empirically at voting in the United States. It was published again in 2020.

Risk of violating a citizen’s right to vote versus Risk of a fraudulent vote cast

  • In deciding on laws making voting easier or harder, the risk of violating a citizen’s right to vote must be weighed against the risk of a fraudulent vote cast.
  • There are two components of the risk of X:
    • Probability of X
    • Gravity of X
  • So
    • The probability of violating a citizen’s right to vote must be weighed against the probability of a fraudulent vote cast.
    • The gravity of violating a citizen’s right to vote must be weighed against the gravity of a fraudulent vote cast.
  • Probabilities
    • The probabilities are determined empirically, by analyzing facts and figures.
  • Seriousness
    • The question of gravity is settled a priori:
      • Since free and fair elections are the core of democracy, violating a citizen’s right to vote is much worse than a fraudulent vote cast.

Voter Suppression: Quick Take

  • Voter Suppression is reducing the number of votes cast by a targeted group by making it harder or impossible for its members to vote, e.g. by denying suffrage, requiring strict voter IDs, or reducing the number of polling places.
  • The US has a long history of voter suppression, from restricting suffrage to white male land-owners to Jim Crow laws.
  • Laws restricting voting are today typically justified by the “need” to reduce voter fraud. There are two problems with this justification.
    • Voter fraud is extremely rare.
    • Violating a citizen’s right to vote is much worse than a fraudulent vote cast.

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