Off the back of the remarkable US elections in which Trump has falsely been claiming widespread voter fraud to explain his loss, we wanted to highlight the fraudulent idea of a living, breathing democracy in America when we consider the very real pervasiveness of voter suppression.
Let’s first turn to the past. In Taylor County, Giorgia in 1946, Black people were threatened with violence by white people if they dared to vote. But Maceo Snipes – off the back of a Federal Court ruling that said white people could no longer prevent Black people from voting in the democratic primary – would not be thwarted and voted. He was the only Black person in the county who did. Two days later he was lynched by a group of white men for doing so. Such acts of violence are central to how white people’s societal power is maintained. The permissibility of this violence reflects the ways structures – laws, policies and institutions – serve white people’s interests. And the outcome of this violence – where Black people live in terror of exercising their rights – ensures governing institutions continue to serve white people’s interests at the expense of others.
We aren’t in 1946, and today voter suppression of poor people, people of colour, disabled people, native people and other marginalised communities, prevails. Below are just some of the mechanisms – all entirely legal – deployed by various states to block people voting and that were in place in the 2020 election:
- Last minute requirements of evidence to produce to be eligible to vote
- Moving polling stations to hostile neighbourhoods
- A reduction in polling booths
- Strict photo ID requirements
- Felon disenfranchisement laws
- Purging of electoral rolls
- Calling law enforcement to monitor the polls
- Prohibit early voting
- Prohibit voting by post
- Restricting voter registration
- Pandemic specific: polling stations that prevent social distancing, ventilation, etc
How have these tactics suppressed voters historically and continue to impact people now?
If we take strict ID requirements, for example, we see obtaining a photo ID isn’t easily accessible for people made poor who are required to incur expenses to obtain the underlying documents that are needed to get even a free ID. Disabled people with limited mobility are also left with limited options when travel is required to obtain IDs. Changing one’s named gender on an ID can cost an upwards of $358, which can be extremely costly for trans and nonbinary people, not to mention how the process of changing one’s ID can be incredibly difficult (57% of trans people of voting age have no updated IDs in states that require strict photo IDs). This particular restriction has resulted in a reduction of voter turnout by 2-3% points, equivalent to losing tens of thousands of votes in a single state.
So the question we are left with is: What’s democratic about an election when these are in place? To learn more about voter suppression we recommend the following two documentaries: All In: The Fight for Democracy and Whose Vote Counts, Explained on Amazon Prime and Netflix respectively.