The Top Five Voter Suppression Tactics

Learn more about the top voter suppression methods that undermine democracy in the United States and help cement minority rule.
A voter ID warning outside the polling station of Ward 1 in Nashua, New Hampshire – November 5, 2013 (MarkBuckawicki/Creative Commons)

A voter ID warning outside the polling station of Ward 1 in Nashua, New Hampshire – November 5, 2013 (MarkBuckawicki/Creative Commons)

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Since the Voting Rights Act was essentially sidelined by the Supreme Court in 2013, states have increasingly attempted to institute laws that infringe on the rights of voters. More than half of state legislatures have passed bills that enshrine voter suppression tactics into law, targeting poor, minority voters and seeking to disenfranchise America’s youth. The prevalence of voter suppression tactics in the United States is one of several factors that led to it being ranked as a “flawed democracy” in The Democracy Index alongside countries like Japan and Israel.

While draconian tactics such as literacy tests and poll taxes may sound like voter suppression methods of the past, today’s less than subtle versions of those same machinations have enabled minority rule in the United States for several decades.

Suppressing votes is a dirty bit of business that both Democrats and Republicans have engaged in throughout the history of American democracy. However, in recent years, it’s been a focus for the Republican party who have courted rural districts and sought to control state legislatures to enact a variety of voter suppression laws.

The system of government designed by the founding fathers has been commandeered to provide greater influence to a handful of rural states. In fact, five rural states have 50% more electoral votes and three times as many senators per resident than other states. Some argue this imbalance was intended to address sparsely populated areas of the American frontier, but it’s been hijacked by partisan politics and weaponized to deny some Americans their right to equal representation.

Here are the five ways votes are suppressed and elections are won despite the will of the people in the United States.

Top 5 Voter Suppression Tactics

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1. Gerrymandering

It helps to win elections if you can pick your voters instead of relying on them picking you. Gerrymandering allows candidates to essentially select voters more favorable to their policies through redistricting. By moving electoral boundaries, the party in power can choose demographics that are likely to favor their platform and isolate or cut out others.

This is done through two separate strategies called “packing” and “cracking.” Packing forces more voters into a district that’s likely to be won by the opposing party, freeing up other districts to be more competitive. Cracking breaks up voters into multiple districts, dispersing their influence and watering down the vote for the opposing party.

While both parties have engaged in gerrymandering, Republicans do it more often. In fact, it’s a well-known cornerstone of their strategy called REDMAP (Redistricting Majority Project). This Republican effort targets control of state legislatures in order to draw maps more favorable to GOP candidates.

States where this is a problem: North Carolina, Texas, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and other GOP-controlled states have blatantly gerrymandered to such an extent that court decisions have forced maps to be redrawn through an independent redistricting commission. However, most of these rulings have been based on redistricting that specifically disenfranchises minority voters. States like Wisconsin that have tried to overturn partisan or politically gerrymandered districts have not yet found sympathy with the Supreme Court.

2. Denying Felons the Right to Vote

It’s estimated that more than 6 million Americans have been disenfranchised by states that deny felons the right to vote. While some states only block voting for felons while they are incarcerated, 11 states take away a felon’s right to vote indefinitely.

Because of the massive inequality in rates of incarceration for minorities, denying felons the right to vote significantly impacts election fairness across the United States. Many states, recognizing the racial disparity of such laws, have recently restored felon’s rights to enable those convicted to vote immediately after release from prison.

States where this is a problem: In Florida, Kentucky, and Tennessee, nearly 20% of the African American population has experienced felon voter disenfranchisement. A ballot initiative in Florida to allow felons the right to vote passed in 2018, but was contested by the GOP. Currently, Florida only allows its 1.4 million felons to have voting rights restored if they pay all fines, fees, and penalties associated with their incarceration. Voting rights activists say Florida’s stipulation is essentially a poll tax and violates the Voting Rights Act.

3. Voter ID Requirements & Intimidation

Suppressing the vote has many different flavors but perhaps the most popular is a whole pack of new voter ID laws. Currently, 34 states have some sort of voter identification requirements in place with 18 of those states requiring photo identification. Because they typically require a valid driver’s license, military ID or state identification card, these laws disenfranchise poor, urban, elderly and minority voters who are less likely to hold government-issued forms of identification. It’s estimated as many as 11% of the eligible voting population in the United States does not have an acceptable form of identification.

In addition to identification requirements, studies show minorities experience widespread intimidation tactics at the polls. Nearly 10% of Black and Hispanic voters reported they were falsely told they did not have proper identification at the polls compared to less than 5% of white voters.

States where this is a problem: The South has some of the strictest voter identification laws in the country with widespread accounts of voter intimidation in states like Georgia and Texas. There have also been states that attempted to curtail voter registration through a litany of restrictions. Then-Secretary of State Kris Kobach tried to institute proof of citizenship requirements in Kansas and in North Dakota state officials required voters to register with a street address, which disenfranchised large numbers of Native American voters.

4. Undermining Election Security & Disinformation

After evidence emerged that many voting machines were vulnerable and accessible to hackers in the 2016 election, calls to ratchet up election security mounted. Most states have aging machines with flawed software that doesn’t provide a verifiable paper trail. Data suggests disinformation campaigns on social media were also part of active measures by Russia to influence the election and designed to specifically target African American voters.

However, calls for increased election security and social media accountability have gone largely unanswered, leading to speculation that the failure to secure America’s elections from foreign influence is an intentional voter suppression tactic. The Republican-controlled Senate thus far has refused to take up a single bill to address election security or to allocate funding to states to shore up their cybersecurity. The partisan divide was further underscored earlier this year when GOP senators actively blocked two election security bills Democrats attempted to bring to the floor.

States where this is a problem: States like Florida, Arkansas, Kansas, Indiana, and Tennessee have received poor grades for election security due to a lack of paper trail, no post-election auditing, and voter registration systems that were easily breached. There are also long-standing issues in Georgia, where 127,000 votes went missing in the last election in black precincts all over the state.

5. Polling Place Closures & Roll Purges

The last line of defense in voter suppression is to sow chaos on election day. That can be accomplished through a variety of methods, but some of the most effective are closing polling places and purging voters from the rolls. Voter purges are a way of deleting voters from the rolls due to outdated, incomplete, duplicate, or illegible information. However, these purges are often conducted in a way that targets minority voters. As many as 17 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2016 and 2018, many of them in states with a long history of voter discrimination.

Closing polling places or restricting voting hours is another time-tested suppression tactic because it concentrates volume in densely populated areas and leads to long waits and frustration. Since the Voting Rights Act was undermined by the Supreme Court in 2013, more than a thousand polling locations, many of them in black southern communities, have closed. In Arizona 1 in 5 polling places have been closed in recent years while in Texas, it’s estimated as many as 1 in 10 polling places have been shuttered.

States where this is a problem: Voter turnout in states appears to directly correlate to the degree of voter suppression present. Some of the states that make it the most difficult to vote include Mississippi, Virginia, Tennessee, Indiana, and Kentucky.

What is voter suppression?

Voter suppression is a collection of tactics and methods used to make it harder for certain segments of the population to vote. While the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was designed to overcome some of the barriers that prevented minorities from having equal representation in the United States, a Supreme Court decision invalidating certain aspects of the law has lead to a resurgence of voter suppression.

During the period of reconstruction after the Civil War, voter suppression was the first line of defense for many states that wanted to deny minority voters the rights they’d earned in the 15th Amendment. These methods, referred to as Jim Crow laws, were designed to discourage minorities from voting. Voter suppression in this era was so successful that until 1940, only 3% of eligible African American voters were registered to vote.

The Rantt Rundown

Despite booming urban centers, an embrace of progressive policies, and an increasingly diverse population, some parts of the United States still manage to elect politicians that do not represent the will of the people. Voter suppression tactics often target minorities and the disadvantaged in America and continue to hamper efforts to develop an engaged and enthusiastic voting populace. As long as these suppression efforts are widespread and go unchallenged by the courts, democracy will continue to struggle and the advance of human and civil rights in the United States will suffer.

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