Highly charged midterm elections are just around the corner, and experts are predicting record-high midterm voter turnout. But millions of U.S. citizens are being systematically inhibited — either blatantly or covertly — from casting votes this November.
Voter suppression is real, and it’s very likely happening in your state. Your fellow Americans — and maybe you — are being denied the most fundamental right citizens of a democratic republic have: the right to elect those who govern. If that doesn’t have you up in arms, it should.
One state with a particularly expansive history of voter suppression is Florida, where one out of five African-American adults can’t vote due to disenfranchisement.
This November, Floridians will vote on whether to restore the right to vote to 1.5 million people affected by permanent felony disenfranchisement. Doing so would send a powerful message to the rest of the country, as Florida accounts for nearly half of the U.S.’s permanently disenfranchised population.
Meanwhile, a different mechanism of voter suppression threatens the legitimacy of the governor’s race in Georgia, where candidate for governor — and current secretary of state — Brian Kemp is reportedly behind the stalling of 53,000 voter applications. Among those, 70 percent belong to black voters.
Kemp is being sued by civil rights lawyers for allegedly violating voter protection laws with his “exact match” voter verification method, an excessively strict voter ID requirement that seems to disproportionately disqualify nonwhite voters. And while Kemp claims to be “protecting the integrity of elections,” he’s heard in leaked audio from one of his recent campaign events — obtained by Rolling Stone — fretting that Georgians “exercising their right to vote” could hurt his campaign.
Other forms of suppression are even more obvious.
For example, North Dakota’s state legislature passed a law blatantly targeting Native Americans. It required voter IDs containing a residential address. Native American reservations in North Dakota issue IDs with P.O. boxes rather than residential addresses, and legislators knew it.
Despite its discriminatory nature, attempts to challenge the law have failed. The Supreme Court upheld it, making voting as a Native American in North Dakota distinctly more difficult than voting as a non-Native. And while the progressive website Daily Kos was able to raise $100,000 to help cover the costs of new IDs, it shouldn’t have to come to that.
There are plenty of other examples of voter suppression as well, most of them disproportionately affecting people of color and low-income communities. It’s high time we do away with policies and practices designed to disempower certain populations politically.
And look, it isn’t all doom and gloom.
There are innovative policies being implemented around the country that make registering to vote easier, bypassing some of the more common forms of voter suppression.
One such policy is automatic voter registration — enacted by 13 states and the District of Columbia — which automatically registers voters upon renewal of their driver’s license. In Vermont’s case, this has led to an absolutely staggering 92.5 percent voter registration rate.
Additionally, over a dozen states and D.C. authorized pre-registration for youth under 18; 36 states and D.C. authorized online voter registration; and 15 states and D.C. authorized same day registration.
Policies like these simplify the voting process and increase voter turnout. Plainly, we need more of them. In the words of the late, great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “give us the ballot.”