With the quarantine going on and in this current social climate, we’re being forced to face the things that we’ve ignored for so long. One of those is a reality that Black and brown people, especially those in low-income neighborhoods, have known for years: voter suppression. Racism is so systemic and pervasive in the United States that it worms its way into every social institution possible: policing, housing, education, and the voting system.
When Black people rightly complain about the many injustices we face, an ignorant white person’s first response might be to say “why don’t you just vote if you want to change things so badly”. The problem is it’s not that easy. In America, the voting system is just as rotten with systemic racism as all the other institutions in this country. The way this manifests in a post-Jim Crow world is through 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. This could be as minor as making voting less convenient for some people, to more extreme forms like physically intimidating possible voters (which is illegal).
So, who is voter suppression for? Who does it benefit? In almost all cases, the answer to that question is Republican lawmakers. The laws that result in voter suppression introduced or written by Republican lawmakers and signed into law by Republican governors or presidents. Various polls from recent years show that the majority of the country supports Democratic policies (even if they don’t know or admit this), and when Democrats turn up to vote they tend to win. Because of this Republican law and policymakers tend to make efforts to prevent certain groups of people from showing up at the polls on election day.
Specific groups of potential voters find it incredibly difficult, or even impossible, to vote in America. The most obvious group is immigrants, despite the fact that they pay taxes and contribute to society. Like most countries, only citizens and nationals can vote in America. However, the millions of citizens who live in United States territories of Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Northern Mariana Islands cannot vote.
Another group of Americans who would have difficulty voting is ex-felons. Although voting rights for felons are determined on a state by state basis, only Maine and Vermont have it so felons never lose their right to vote (even while they are still incarcerated) while people with criminal histories in eleven states lose their right to vote indefinitely. Why this is concerning is because out of every racial and ethnic group in America, Black men are more likely than others to be arrested, given harsher sentences than their non-Black peers, and even convicted of crimes they did not commit.
Finally, election day is not a holiday in America. One of my friends joked and said “President’s Day is a national holiday but not the day we vote for president”. The people who are most affected by this are college students who have to go to class or those who work at lower-income jobs that cannot afford to take time off work, even if it’s to go vote. This in itself is classist, because it makes it harder for poorer people to vote for the leaders they want representing them. To make matters worse, long lines and other inconveniences at polling stations make it even more frustrating for those who managed to get in line to vote. Look at what just happened in Georgia two weeks ago: the new voting machines were said to be missing or malfunctioning and potential voters had to suffer through incredibly long wait times. And in Jefferson County, Kentucky, home of Louisville and the largest Black community in the whole state, there was only one in-person voting site. Outrage broke out at Jefferson County when the doors were locked at 6 pm with hundreds of people still in line. Although the doors were eventually reopened, this is a gross and disgusting attempt to suppress voters, regardless of what Kentucky Secretary of State Michael Adams has to say about it. This should not happen anywhere, and we definitely cannot allow it to happen again in November when the nation comes together to vote for our next leader for the next four years.
What recently happened in Georgia and Kentucky reminded me of a tweet I just saw. Someone said that they got really angry when people made condescending remarks about Black people lining up to get those popular chicken sandwiches from Popeye’s last year, but not being willing to show up to vote. He said that it was easier to get one of those rare, coveted sandwiches than it was to cast a vote. At least with the sandwiches, all you need is $4. It feels like voting in America is an obstacle course that gets harder and harder for specific groups of people. You can’t blame anyone for wanting to eat a sandwich instead of constantly running, not just for their right to vote, but for almost any privilege wealthy white people never have to think twice about.
One thing Americans love is their freedom. This is the only modern world superpower that can fully claim to have freedom of speech, the right to bear arms (as much as I hate that), and so many other personal freedoms that this country was founded on. What baffles me is how Americans, specifically conservative Republicans with all their love for “the freedoms our veterans fought for” are able to condone and accept such blatantly undemocratic and un-American voting practices. When individuals’ rights to vote for the people who will occupy the most esteemed positions in the country, in the world, is taken away, whether directly or indirectly, we should be afraid. Somehow along the line, America has reached a point where these things happen so often that we consider it ‘normal’ or ‘okay’. We should all be terrified that as a nation that has already ravaged so many poor, disabled, queer, Black and brown people of their rights, we are now beginning to take away the one thing we thought was untouchable in this country: our basic democratic right to vote.