Obama voting in 2012

Voter Suppression ≠ Voter Fraud

An interactive history

It was 45°. Steam was rising from manholes. The sun was rising behind tall buildings. It was 6:00 a.m. and Betty was standing at the end of a long line. She was sleepy, a little hungry, but excited to vote in her first primary — the New York democratic primary. She registered before the deadline last year. Clearly Betty was a politically aware student. Class started at 9:30 a.m., but she figured she’d be done well before then.

The polling station opened an hour late. People were miserable and cold. But the line started to move. “Finally,” Betty thought. Two more hours rolled by. Her classes started in 30 minutes, but she didn’t care. She was going to vote. Betty reached the front and gave her name to the volunteer. She watched as he thumbed through the voter registration list. “You’re not registered,” the volunteer eventually replied. “Bullshit,” Betty thought. “I’m registered, check again.”

“You’re not registered,” the volunteer said again. “But you can use a provisional ballot, although it might not be counted.” Betty was due in class in 20 minutes. She had no time to argue. She took the ballot and walked into the voting booth. Republicans. It had nothing but Republicans. “Where are the democrats?? Where is MY candidate?”

She walked backed to the volunteer and asked for a Democrat ballot, he laughed. “We don’t have any.”


I want to discuss voter suppression and voter fraud with you. There’s a difference, and I’ve noticed in my conversation with Americans and Europeans that the two often get conflated.

In short, voter suppression is when the establishment enacts laws, perform shady changes to the register, or adds ridiculous requirements that keep voters out of the process. A great example is New York’s recent voter purge during the primary that took place primarily in Brooklyn.

Voter fraud is when a someone manipulates the process to change votes, casts more than one vote, or erases votes completely. There aren’t very many cases of these. North Carolina has had two confirmed cases since 2000 and California has had one in recent memory. It wasn’t even a voter, it was a Senator.

Don’t be duped.

Now that we have the differences cleared up, I implore you to reconsider voter I.D. laws and other regulations that are presented under the guise of stemming the flow of voter fraud. In reality, as I’ve mentioned above, those laws are voter suppression laws, and belong no where in our democracy.

For some context and stories of voter suppression, here is a timeline with past voting rights victories and recent infringements on those victories. The biggest being the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in 2013. Betty’s story, which is based on true events could have been prevented under Section Five of the Voting Rights Act if it was still useful.


Do you have any personal stories of voter suppression or fraud? Let me know, I’d love to follow-up on this timeline with personal experiences.


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I’m Marck Ernest Thornton. I’m passionate about writing, interactive and digital media, social justice, journalism and design. You can ask me to work with you, invite me to speak at your event, or grab a coffee if you’re in Berlin. I’m excited to hear from you!

Twitter @marck_t

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