Louisiana voters face suppression tactics in 2020 election

Lauren Lehmann, Staff Reporter

Voter suppression describes state-sanctioned efforts to repress a citizen or group of people’s vote and disproportionally affects low income and minority groups. Actions that are characteristic of voter suppression are enacted by state legislatures. On average, counties with large minority populations have fewer polling sites per voter.

Access to the vote has been a hot topic during this election cycle as the security of mail-in voting has been brought into question by President Donald Trump. The use of mail-in ballots has increased as a result of COVID-19, which has also led to changes at in-person polls. Contention around voting laws has led Democrats to accuse Republicans of suppressing minorities who most often support Democratic candidates and Republicans to allege that Democrats are making voter fraud more accessible.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is meant to regulate voting laws and to keep voter suppression of minorities at bay. In 2013, the Supreme Court struck down a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act. They decided that Section 4, which required specific states and counties to receive federal clearance before making changes to voting procedures, was unconstitutional. The section applied to nine states, including Louisiana. It was meant to identify those states that had historically discriminated against the Black vote and to prevent unlawful voter suppression.

Voter suppression tactics are characterized by laws and practices that create obstacles for voting. Some of these include things like confusing registration websites or reducing the number of polling places or ballot drop boxes, while other more controversial methods include felony disenfranchisement and voter identification laws. 

State policies on polling places are significant because they can directly target districts that are majority Black or low-income residents. When polling places are eliminated, wait times increase because each polling place has to serve more people. The longer the line, the harder it is for hourly wage earners and low-income parents to vote. Unsalaried workers rely on hourly wages that they are missing out on for each hour they have to wait in line. Additionally, voters with young kids likely have to pay for child care while they wait in line for hours.

Confusing registration policies and eligibility requirements are common obstacles for widespread voting registration. For this reason, there are extensive campaigns meant to encourage nationwide registration. One of these movements, National Voter Registration Day, is held on the fourth Tuesday of September during election years. The campaign brought in record numbers of registrations with a reported 1.5 million voter registrations completed on Sept. 22. 

However, on National Voter Registration Day, Louisiana voters who went online to register to vote found that the site was down for maintenance. It was scheduled to reopen at midnight on Sept. 23. The shutdown was explained as an oversight and “unfortunate error” by Republican Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin. In preparation for the 2020 general election, Ardoin has also experienced pushback from a Baton Rouge federal judge after attempting to reduce absentee voting across Louisiana. 

Now that the election is well under way and early in-person voting is occurring across the state, many are looking for telltale signs of voter suppression. Early voting is an option that can potentially ease the wait times for voters by creating more opportunity for voting and flexibility with work conflicts. However, extremely long lines in the West bank polling place for Jefferson Parish caused some voters to walk away without casting a vote. Wait times were reported to be up to seven hours, and in some cases even longer. 

The threat of in-person voting becoming COVID-19 super-spreader events may also keep people away from the polls. Louisiana does not require voters to wear masks at the polls, and while voters in Baton Rouge felt that social distancing was being respected, lines in Jefferson Parish were described as “tightly packed crowds.” All three polling places designated for Jefferson Parish residents reported long wait times. 

Voters in line said that they expected even longer lines closer to Election Day, and many of those waiting in line were not eligible to apply for an absentee ballot. Louisiana is one of only five states not allowing no-excuse absentee ballots this election cycle. Others cited their concern about mail in ballots not being counted as their reason for waiting in line. Trump’s rhetoric around mail-in ballots has caused anxiety around allegations of voter fraud. 

As the election cycle continues, voter suppression is likely to be a highly disputed and discussed topic in counting votes. While the last day to vote is Nov. 3, mail-in ballots will continue to be counted in the days that follow.