Voter suppression in the United States


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David Duggan, Managing Editor

The history of the United States is one that is synonymous with a tumultuous relationship between the citizens of this country and their right to vote. Throughout the history of this country, we have systematically barricaded select groups from their constitutional rights.

There is this misconception that voter suppression is a relic of the past. While the rights of all Americans to vote are enshrined in the Constitution, the actions taken by lawmakers since our inception have worked to restrict the guaranteed right to vote. 

The Constitution guaranteed African American men the right to vote with the ratification of the 15th Amendment in 1870 and women the right to vote with passaging the 19th Amendment in 1919. The language, while clear, did not prevent voter intimidation, which included poll taxes (banned with the 24th amendment) literacy tests, and physical altercation preventing African Americans from voting. 

It is important for one to understand that, after reading the aforementioned, simply because there is the protection of voting rights in print, our history has demonstrated the rights to vote have been and continue to come under attack. Modern voter suppression is real, and it has been brought to the forefront of the conversation in recent years. Most notably is that of legislation intended to protect the sanctity of the vote by eliminating attempts of fraud. 

The Republican Party has voiced unsubstantiated assumptions that photo ID would prevent voter fraud. In direct conduction of these baseless claims, the ACLU conducted research in 2017 which showed that voter ID laws instead disproportionately disenfranchise African Americans and poor people. Also, this apparent widespread voter fraud championed by the right only includes thirty-one cases of voter impersonation out of one billion cast votes since 2000.

In Pennsylvania in 2014, a voter ID law signed by then-Governor Corbett was one of the most restrictive in the nation and would have unfairly targeted those with disabilities, the homeless, and the elderly. The law was later struck down but showed the Republican-controlled legislature was committed to disenfranchisement. 

In 2013, North Carolina passed into law legislation that would have severely restricted voting. The US 4th Circuit Court of Appeals said they intended it to “target African Americans with almost surgical precision.” In 2018, the state once again passed voting restrictions which were once again struck down in court for “discrimination against African Americans”

Gerrymandering has also been a tool deployed with nefarious intent. Gerrymandering is the act of manipulating political district boundaries to benefit a particular group. The idea is to lump together many voters of the same party into one district and create many districts of the competing party.

No person has been more active in the shadows of partisan and racial gerrymandering than Thomas Hofeller, whose work has helped to disenfranchise African American voters across the country. Reverting back to North Carolina in 2018, in both the statehouse and senate race, Democrats received more votes yet won fewer seats due to gerrymandering. 

In most shocking proportions, this past 2020 Presidential Election forced the American Electorate to bore witness to a calculated and malicious attempt to silence the voice of tens of millions of people. Despite producing zero evidence of any election fraud, Texas brought to the Supreme Court a lawsuit that would have thrown out the votes in the states of Georgia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Wisconsin under the pretense of a rigged election. 

This lawsuit received widespread Republican support, despite then-Attorney General William Barr stating there was no widespread election fraud.

Besides Attorney General Barr discrediting the election conspiracy theories, former President Trump fired the former head of the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Agency, Christopher Krebbs, after Krebbs released a statement stating the 2020 election was “the most secure in history.”

After spreading conspiracies to discourage mail-in voting during the 2020 election, which only hurt President Trump’s reelection bid, and unsuccessfully attempting to throw out the votes of those who voted by mail, Republicans in numerous states are introducing policies to restrict voting.

The Brennan Center released a report which showed 33 states have introduced a combined 106 bills after the 2020 election to restrict voting in time for the midterms. 

Ironically, the very electoral system that reaffirmed Republican Control of the Pennsylvania General is protesting Act 77 of 2019, which Governor Wolf signed into law in 2020. The act had overwhelming bipartisan support and created no-excuse mail-in voting. The same Republican General Assembly is now back peddling the very legislation they championed just last year. 

The Philadelphia Inquirer reported two PA State representatives reasoning for supporting a repeal of no-excuse mail-in voting as the result of a flood of calls by constituents who expressed concern over the baseless election fraud claims championed by the former president and those in conservative media. 

The effect of repealing Act 77 will only make it more difficult for citizens to vote, and as Republican-controlled legislatures in states across the country continue with these racially fueled attacks on our democracy, the effect will only be fewer voters taking part in our election with already low turnout rates.