Democracy versus the Short Game: The State of Voter Suppression and Political Victories

By: Sharita Thomas  

The use of bully tactics to sway election outcomes is nothing new and has been employed by both Democratic and Republican parties. The Politics of Voter Suppression, by Tova Andrea Wang, details the history of voter suppression tactics. Aside from obvious violence, poll taxes and “literacy” or “competency” tests restricted the Black vote. Poor Whites were also suppressed through the use of employer intimidation, and poll taxes. Challenge laws and “poll watchers” were additional bullying tactics to delegitimize potential voters of minority ethnicities. Manipulations to voter registration processes targeted urban areas with tedious and expensive methods.  The tactics that we are seeing today, largely a tool of the GOP and private donors, are over 150 years old. Have we really not progressed as a nation beyond our primitive mid-nineteenth century state?

. The victories of the 2010 election produced many GOP majorities in states, and subsequently resulted in a sharp increase in restrictive voting laws. Most of these laws place requirements on forms of identification- a strategy to reduce voter fraud. While voter fraud undermines our democracy it is not as substantial of an issue as the urgency of these “protective” laws attempts to project. In fact, these strategic laws and other tactics are more damaging to our idea of democracy as the work against complete voter inclusion.

What we are seeing across the country are blatant attempts to destroy democracy to achieve a political victory and apparent malice toward racial and ethnic minorities, the young, the elderly, and the low-income to achieve large scale disenfranchisement. The 17 states that have passed voter identification laws also have large Hispanic and Black voters. Most of the measures require a government issued photo ID, proof of citizenship, and restrictions on early voting and registration.  Along with restrictive voter laws we have seen less discrete, but equally disturbing tactics. Tea party-affiliate groups, like True the Vote, are rallying to target communities of color and purge voter rolls, challenge voters’ qualifications, and postured “hovering” at polling locations. Scare tactic billboards; like the ones from Clear Channel in Cincinnati (that are now being removed, popped up in “strategic” neighborhoods.

Civic engagement and participation have largely rested on the responsibility of the individual. It is ultimately up to the individual to ensure that they are registered to vote, that they are informed on the issues, and that they actually cast a vote. However, having the focus on personal responsibility does not account for ingrained structural barriers and the effectiveness of voter suppression tactics to navigate the legal system. Our policies for engaging in our democratic processes should be among the easiest. Easy should not be assumed to be synonymous with lacking legal integrity. Voter registration should be simple, accurate, and expedited. Civic education should be a consistent element in our nations’ school and prison systems. We should be encouraging a mindset that is receptive to the uptake of civic engagement and continued participation. Barriers apparent during the voting period are among the most important elements that have missed significant reforms. Voting locations, hours, and employment protection policies should work for all eligible voters. Partisan participation and outdated policies should not restrict our democracy.

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