Understanding the history of voter suppression and gerrymandering, and how to advocate for more accountability and transparency from your legislators, with Kwame Akosah and Imara Jones

“Voting has real power. If your vote meant nothing, which is what people who don’t want you to vote constantly tell you, there wouldn’t be so much effort put in to prevent you from doing it.” — Imara Jones

I was so lucky to be able to have Kwame Akosah and Imara Jones on an interview moderated by dear friend Kira-Simon Kennedy about the history of voter suppression, African American disenfranchisement, shifting political dynamics, and what we can do to keep our legislators accountable.

1) The next primary election: November 6, 2018

Get people registered! All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. 39 state and territorial governorships and numerous other state and local elections will also be contested.

2) The 2020 Census

Redistricting happens after every census, and is a powerful opportunity for partisans and those who want to maintain racial and ethnic power to make it harder for a certain group to elect candidates of their choice.

3) Claims of voter fraud. They are used to justify voter suppression

A method of voter suppression that you’ll see debated in the news is requiring documentary proof of citizenship before someone registers to vote “Imagine doing a voter registration drive at a baseball game and asking people, and them replying ‘sorry I don’t have my birth certificate or my passport on me.’ A study found 30 instances of in-person voter fraud out of 1 billion ballots cast — lower than death by lightning. There are folks who want low income and people of color not to vote.

4) Reformation of state laws to allow electors to vote independently. Advocate for increased transparency in the electorate selection process

When you vote for the President, it actually says in the fine print that you’re voting for the Electors, who then cast the votes. Electors usually voting along party lines.

  • When they contact you [to be on the Electoral College], you feel honored. You don’t know anything about your constitutional role so you’re not going to ask questions. There is no process for how this happens. When the Hamilton Electors tried to reach out to these people to get them to vote independently, many of them didn’t even know they could. The Constitution lays out laws but the electors are chosen by the parties in each state. Fun tidbit: Bill Clinton was actually an elector for Hillary this past round. The list of names could come from a fundraising event where someone donated a few dollars. A lot of times they choose people who they expect won’t know their roles, or that they are empowered.

5) All of these racist voter laws are being passed by state legislatures.

The real center of power in NY state is in the Board of Elections, which is one of the most dysfunctional agencies in state government. Everything is still on paper. We can’t get things like automatic voter registration, or a robust online registration system. We should making these issues a serious platform for people who are progressive and want to make change happen in New York State.

Imara Jones (left) and Kwame Akosah (right)

“I care about the ideals of America; I think that they are worth fighting for. If we hold up to those ideals, it really is the last best hope for humanity. The problem is that we don’t have a system that actually allows us to achieve those ideals — which actively undermines them.” — Imara Jones

“We’re supposed to have universal suffrage for everyone in this country but there are so many barriers to preventing people on the rolls and casting a vote that counts. One of the the biggest eligibility barriers lie in criminal disenfranchisement laws — that’s 6.1 million people who don’t have the right to vote because of a criminal conviction. 4.7 of them are actually no longer in prison and part of the community paying taxes and raising children, and no one ever talks about it. Voter suppression is sought after because it works: the incarcerated are less likely to be able to vote in the places where their votes matter more.” — Kwame Akosah

Redistricting & gerrymandering

In the U.S. we have geographical representation (some other countries have “associative representation”) in a legislature and at all levels. Every district line has to have an equal population so everyone is represented “equally” in the legislature.

On Kira’s suggestion, I looked at my geographical representative information. Left to right: NYS Assembly, NYS Senate, US Congress. You can find yours at elections.ny.gov. This doesn’t seem to so bad compared to Illinois’ 4th congressional district below.
Illinois’ 4th congressional district is heavily gerrymandered

A consequence of Selma and the resulting Voting Rights Act of 1965 was a backlash that remapped Southern electoral politics from Democratic to Republican

The African American population in the south was re-enfranchised, and the first time, black women were also given the right to vote. Race was a very compelling piece in the story of the South flipping to Republican: the Voting Rights Act is what you can say attributed to us having the parties the way we do, and why the Democratic party is more pro-women, pro-POC than the Republican party. The Voting Rights Act is also the last provision which allows you to challenge racial gerrymandering.

Voter suppression tactics

Example of a literacy test. Looks pretty hard, I’d definitely have trouble passing this.


TRYTOBEGOOD is a podcast about humans and design. This publication houses the footnotes for my shows.


Written by

Fei, human of the mid '80s. Designer, artist, writer, cultural activist. http://trytobegood.com


TRYTOBEGOOD is a podcast about humans and design. This publication houses the footnotes for my shows.