-Elizabeth Dunford, PJC Intern

In 1869 the United States Congress passed the 15th Amendment, securing the right to vote to all United States citizens, regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”[1] This legalized and allowed for the enforcement of voting rights for all white and black male citizens in the United States. However, as history shows us, the following era of the post-Reconstruction South saw intense tactics of violence, disenfranchisement and economic deprivation against emancipated black populations. These laws and the social violence that accompanied them not only terrorized black communities but suppressed black men’s newly gained right to vote. In places like Louisiana, “grandfather clauses” were passed right before the turn of the century to prevent former slaves and their descendants from voting, and later Jim Crow laws, poll taxes and “literacy” tests stifled voting access for African Americans across large swaths of the U.S. South.[2] But these tactics of voter suppression certainly weren’t left behind in the 19th and 20th centuries.

As expressed in Suppressed: The Fight to Vote, voter suppression today is a highly-bureaucratic process that specifically targets black and brown communities, as well as poor and working people, the youth, the elderly and other marginalized groups who may already struggle with having access, time or resources to get out and vote. One of the most egregious examples of this was in 2018’s Georgia governorship race between Brian Kemp (R) and Stacey Abrams (D.) Brian Kemp, who was at the time the Georgia Secretary of State, was deeply embroiled in a slew of oppressive tactics. These included but were not limited to: the closing of local precincts in rural, poor or black communities, withholding voter registrations from being processed, unlawful voter purging, a failure to fulfill absentee ballot requests, difficulty with the “exact match” law in Georgia and a lack of voting station resources going to precincts that serve black and brown communities. With the pressures of institutionalized and social racism, classism, ableism and other types of discrimination, these forms of voter suppression disenfranchised hundreds of thousands of people, especially communities that typically vote Democrat.[3]

And although Stacey Abrams’ 2018 run for the governorship of Georgia is an incredibly obvious example of voter suppression, it’s certainly not the only recent one. Another example in 2018 occurred in North Dakota when the state passed restrictive voter I.D. laws that required a permanent street address on the identification that citizens used for voting. This targeted Native American populations because many reservations do not use physical street addresses; their residents use P.O. boxes instead, which did not count as a permanent street address for voting.[4] There are also a few examples from this year during this current primary season. The very concept of the Iowa Caucus is problematic in its implementation. Voting in a regular primary can already be difficult for a marginalized community, but caucuses prove to be an extra barrier for many working class people, parents and voters with disabilities. It also requires a sustained physical presence for a “vote” to count. The inclusion of satellite caucuses this past year, which aimed to help shift-workers of primarily immigrant background, shows how difficult the caucus process can be in its very conception. The public nature of caucuses also calls into question the importance of having a secret ballot that protects voter choice. [5] Recent I.D. laws in places like New Hampshire also threaten the youth vote in particular. A lot of these laws don’t specifically eliminate these groups from voting, but suppress turnout through disinformation and confusing bureaucracy within the state government.[6]

With Super Tuesday fast approaching and the current presidential primary season in full swing, it’s important to not only look back on voter suppression that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries, but to closely examine those examples today that specifically disenfranchise black and brown people. Stacey Abrams’ governor run was one of the most explicit cases in the past few years, but these efforts against political democratization continue, whether through new laws or the already entrenched framework of the institution of voting in the United States.

[1] https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/amendments-11-27

[2] https://www.aclu.org/issues/voting-rights/voting-rights-act/history-voting-rights-act

[3] https://www.bravenewfilms.org/suppressed

[4] https://www.npr.org/2018/10/13/657125819/many-native-ids-wont-be-accepted-at-north-dakota-polling-places

[5] https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2019/10/iowa-satellite-caucus-democrats-voting-rights/598999/

[6] https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/2020-election/new-hampshire-confusion-around-new-law-could-threaten-young-voter-n1117486