Voter suppression runs deep in American history

Emrey Broyles and Noah LeJeune

Emma Schneider

The 2020 presidential election hangs over the American people as both Republicans and Democrats rally one another to vote for their preferred candidates. Now more than ever, citizens understand the importance of exercising their right to vote as a means of achieving the country of which they dream. For many people, however, this dream seems futile and impractical as a result of voter suppression, a common occurrence in America. Throughout American history and into today, voter suppression has been used deliberately to deter certain demographics from voting.

After the Civil War, the institution of Jim Crow and resistance from states to enforce the 15th Amendment disenfranchised the Black community. Many Southern states created poll taxes and literacy tests to prevent newly-freed Black people from voting. On the other hand, they gave the poorer, uneducated white people the opportunity to vote through the grandfather clause, which allowed people to vote given that their grandfathers had the right. These various voting requirements suppressed Black people from voting until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 fully enfranchised every Black American. 

The Voting Rights Act, however, did not dispel every form of voter suppression rampant in American politics, namely felon disenfranchisement and gerrymandering. Many states offer felons re-enfranchisement either after prison, after prison and parole, or after prison, parole and probation. On the other hand, some states never take away their right to vote while others disenfranchise them permanently. States discourage many felons from voting by complicating the process of re-enfranchisement and requiring payment.

Likewise, states use gerrymandering, the act of redistributing voter populations in districts to create an advantage in one political party over another. Gerrymandering works either by diluting a vote or making it hyperconcentrated in a district, eliminating the true value of an individual’s voting power. 

Voter suppression has also been a topic of discussion for the 2020 election as the actions of President Donald Trump and certain Republican politicians have come into question. In August, Trump’s reelection campaign accused Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boocknar’s absentee ballot mail-in system as being unconstitutional on three grounds: lack of mandates on security of mail-in locations, lack of signature matching for absentee ballots and the requirement that poll workers were born in Pennsylvania. This is voter intimidation and suppression with no clear evidence of voter fraud and misconduct. The court ruled against Trump, but this may indicate a lack of trust in both the American people or the election process. 

Likewise, in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott signed an official order to reduce absentee ballot drop-off locations to one in every county of Texas. The governor ordered this limitation one month before the election and after U.S. Postal Service funding cuts slowed down mail so that mail-in ballots are no longer a viable option. This action suppresses the disabled, elderly and sick populations that would have trouble reaching farther locations without squandering large portions of time and energy, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Despite the institutionalized voter suppression and the threatening actions of politicians, a rise in voter engagement is apparent in this election season. Before the presidential election on Nov. 3, more people have cast ballots than those who voted early or absentee in the 2016 election. However, the obstacles set in place by voter suppression are still hindering the votes of various vulnerable groups including felons, the poor and the elderly decades after the passage of the Civil Rights Act.