In 2012, to the surprise of many – especially white, conservative voters – the deciding factor in Obama’s second win over a Republican candidate was largely determined by one thing: minority voter turnout. According to the May 2013 release of the Census Bureau’s November election survey, “black turnout rates in 2012 exceeded that of whites for the first time. This, in an election when white turnout declined significantly and Hispanic and Asian turnout inched down modestly from 2008.” The eventual conclusions for each party were simple: in the future, the “turnout will be less important for Democratic victory as demography changes in their favor, though they must maintain their strong voting margins among blacks, Hispanics, and Asians. For Republicans, [it] show[s] that they cannot count primarily on white support to take the White House… They cannot win unless they also peel off more votes among minorities.”
In the primary elections so far, it is clear that the Republican party has not heeded the need to entice minority voters, for they are still failing in many ways – which include not spending time in the poor or minority communities, mistreating racial issues, expecting fast results from newfound relationships, and making remarks that further alienate certain communities.
On the other hand, the Democratic party isn’t faring so well either – despite common belief that it has minority votes in the bag. Since 2009, it has “suffered devastating losses at all levels of government since 2008 including: 69 House seats, 13 Senate seats, 910 state legislative seats, 30 state legislative chambers [and] 11 governorships. While the party energized young and minority voters in 2008 and 2012, according to the report, its leadership is still largely old and white, and it has struggled to recruit new leaders and fresh-faced candidates at the state and local level.”
With both parties at a loss with minority voters, one would think that they would rally behind strongly campaigning towards them – which they have done here and there as the primaries have gone forward. However, one fact that they seem to ignore (or even support silently) is that there are more actions, bills, and situations that are preventing voters from taking to the polls – and are even attempts at taking their voting rights away.
Here are examples of some bills, actions, and situations uncovered – so you’re ultimately prepared to fight for your right to vote if you have to.
1. Voter Suppression Bills
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, since the 2010 midterm elections, new strict voting restrictions have been implemented in over 22 states. One of the most notable examples was seen in 2012 during the Presidential Election, in which nearly a quarter of a million citizens were deterred from voting in Florida. Furthering the implementation of several voter suppression laws, the 2013 Supreme Court enabled racist and oppressive voter laws to take over in Shelby County V. Holder, ultimately undermining a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. This, in the end, destroyed “the requirement that some states, particularly in the South, had to seek Justice Department approval for changes in their voting laws. GOP-controlled legislatures in states with large minority populations immediately began passing restrictive voting laws that the VRA had previously blocked. Within months of the decision, six states previously covered by that part of the act advanced new laws that critics claimed would create hurdles for minority voters.”
What did these new laws look like? They’ve included shorter voting hours, stricter voter ID laws, redrawing various voter districts, ending early voting, and restricting many voter registration drives. And not surprisingly, they’re within states that have historically dealt with many race issues.
Voter ID laws:
While the claims that historically discriminatory states have progressed, evidence also points otherwise. Since they no longer need clearance for their voting laws, several of these states have implemented problematic voter ID laws. Jim Rice says that “people [are] concerned about the new voter laws contend that the ID requirements erect an unnecessary barrier for some voters, which raises an obvious question: Why is it so difficult for some people to get a photo ID?… But for many people, it’s not quite so easy, starting with the birth certificate, which many poor people and recent immigrants may not have at their fingertips. And, of course, people without photo IDs don’t have driver’s licenses, and likely don’t have a car, so getting to government offices—especially in rural areas without public transportation—can be a complicated, time-consuming process, often requiring time off work and the payment of fees.”
The co-director of the Voting Rights Project at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Marcia Johnson Blanco, stated that this is a time “when voting rights are under siege, and the Supreme Court has nullified one of the most important provisions of the Voting Rights Act which gave communities of color a voice and a stake in the issues that govern our country.”
At the moment, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, Texas, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Ohio all have extremely strict voter ID laws that could keep minorities from taking to the polls come November.
Redrawing and manipulation of voter district lines:
States redraw their district lines every 10 years, and it’s no surprise that some money is involved when it happens. “There is an active effort by political parties and political operatives to manipulate our elections and manipulate the way that district lines are drawn in order to preserve their own power and, in a lot of ways, to prevent up and coming communities of color from participating in that seat of democracy,” says Kathay Feng, the national redistricting director at Common Cause.
In 2014, the GOP was found guilty of being “successful in their efforts to influence the redistricting process and the congressional plan under review.” The Florida legislature had redrawn the state’s 10th and 5th Congressional Districts in 2012 to ultimately benefit the Florida Republican Party. The League of Women Voters, however, had “challenged the Florida GOP on the basis that the redrawn lines were intended solely to benefit GOP candidates. The legislators responsible have been mandated to reset the lines to their original places.”
In 2013, Democrats, the North Carolina NAACP, and other government groups sued to invalidate maps redrawn in North Carolina, “saying that they were improperly drawn based on racial considerations. The opponents also argued lawmakers too finely split the state, dividing so many local voting precincts that it would create confusion.” Republicans had control of both, the House and Senate – therefore also controlling redistricting legislation, and former “Gov. Bev Perdue, a Democrat who left office in early 2013, had no say in how the districts were drawn because state law does not give the governor veto authority over redistricting plans.” A three-panel judge eventually upheld the redistricted maps.
Early Voting Restrictions:
In the same year, North Carolina made history in passing the most restrictive voting laws in the nation as well. The revised bill, which was passed, “prohibits same-day registration, ends pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, eliminates one week of early voting, prevents counties from extending voting hours due to long lines (often caused by cuts in early voting) or other extraordinary circumstances, scratches college ID cards and other forms of identification from the very short list of acceptable state-issued photo IDs, and outlaws certain types of voter registration drives.”
When one looks specifically at the end of early voting, it is clear that it effects the state’s minorities the most – specifically black voters. In the 2008 and 2012 elections, “more than half of the state’s residents and 70 percent of African American voters in North Carolina used early voting… in the last midterm election, 200,000 people voted during the seven days of early voting that have no been eliminated, and 20,000 used same day registration.”
If it wasn’t obvious enough that early voting hours were made to target a specific group from voting, in 2012, Republican officials in Ohio attempted time and time again to slash early voting hours to keep black citizens from voting. The Chairman of the Franklin County Republican Party (which includes Columbus within the county), made his party’s mission abundantly clear in an email he wrote to the Columbus Dispatch: “I guess I really actually feel we shouldn’t contort the voting process to accommodate the urban – read African-American – voter turnout machine.”
2. Electoral Purges
This process is simple: purging millions of names from voter registrations due to various reasons. Not surprisingly, these have affected minorities more than white voters.
The Interstate Crosscheck Program:
In late 2014, the Interstate Crosscheck Program was launched in 27 states order to prevent double-voting and voter fraud. However, deeper investigation revealed that it was much more. Millions of black, Asian, and Hispanic voters made the list, and when three states (Georgia, Virginia, and Washington) turned over their list of 2 million suspected voting “criminals”, it became abundantly clear that the lists were heavily “weighted with names such as Jackson, Garcia, Patel and Kim — ones common among minorities, who vote overwhelmingly Democratic. Indeed, fully 1 in 7 African-Americans in those 27 states, plus the state of Washington (which enrolled in Crosscheck but has decided not to utilize the results), are listed as under suspicion of having voted twice. This also applies to 1 in 8 Asian-Americans and 1 in 8 Hispanic voters. White voters too — 1 in 11 — are at risk of having their names scrubbed from the voter rolls, though not as vulnerable as minorities.”
Although packed as a highly sophisticated system, it proved to be extremely faulty, because “all it takes to become a suspect is sharing a first and last name with a voter in another state.” For instance, a Kevin Antonio Hayes of Durham, NC was flagged as a double voter due to a voter by the name of Kevin G. Hayes in Alexandria, VA., and a Robert Dewey Cox of Marietta, GA. was flagged along with Robert Glen Cox of Springfield, VA.
Suspected double voters have received a postcard or letter that requires them to restate and verify their name and address with a signature and return it. However, upon review of the postcard sent out in Georgia, the postcard was rendered suspiciously akin to “a piece of trashy mail that you get every day that you just throw away.”
Most recently, it was announced just a few days ago that Ohio was being sued again over voting rights. A voting-rights advocacy group based in New York, Demos, is challenging Secretary of State, Jon Husted, and his order “that idle voters be stricken, or purged, from Ohio’s voter registry, a requirement to participate in elections.” Under his order, almost 2 million names have already been purged in order to reduce “the potential for voter fraud, longer lines and discarded ballots as poll workers aren’t faced with as many voters requiring provisional ballots because of their questionable residency.” The lawsuit makes the claim that “some voters – who may not have left the country or the state – never knew they had been unregistered. Instead, they were denied their right to vote.”
In Cuyahoga County alone, nearly 40,000 voters were purged from voter rolls simply for choosing not to vote in previous elections – and there was a “disproportionate number from poor and minority neighborhoods, according to the Ohio chapter of the A. Philip Randolph Institute, a labor group representing minorities.”
According to the president of Innovation Ohio, Keary McCarthy, this purge has gone too far: “to invalidate someone’s registration simply for the fact that they haven’t voted in six years is not what the National Voter Registration Act was intended to do and that’s why this lawsuit is so important.”
3. Voter Suppression at Polling Places
Even when one isn’t subject to voter ID laws or other suppressive bills (or has managed to navigate through them), the last frontier, the polling place, might be set up to take your vote away through not having enough poll workers and voting machines. With a depletion in both, this equates to longer polling lines – which can – and will – discourage voters from casting their ballots. Not surprisingly, this happens more in voting precincts that have a large number of minority voters.
This was proven in the 2012 election, in which it was discovered that black voters had to wait twice as long (23 minutes) to cast their ballots as it did for white voters (12 minutes). And while Hispanic voters had to wait 19 minutes, white voters who lived “in neighborhoods whose residents are less than 5 percent minority had the shortest of all wait times, just 7 minutes. These averages obscure some of the unusually long lines in some areas. In South Carolina’s Richland County, which is 48 percent black and is home to 14 percent of the state’s African American registered voters, some people waited more than five hours to cast their ballots.”
A study of the long lines by the Brennan Center for Justice revealed “that a big factor behind these delays was inadequately prepared polling places in heavily minority precincts. Looking at Florida, Maryland, and South Carolina, three states that had some of the longest voting lines in 2012 , the center found a strong correlation between areas with large minority populations and a lack of voting machines and poll workers. In South Carolina, the 10 precincts with the longest waits had more than twice the percentage of black voters (64 percent) as the state as a whole (27 percent).”
Below are prime examples past and present showing voter suppression at the polling places.
In the 2012 election, out came proof that even black voters in wealthier counties endured extremely long wait times to cast their ballot. Prince George’s County, Maryland, the wealthiest black county in the nation with the highest minority population in the state, “saw three-hour waits to vote. It had the state’s highest number of precincts without the legally required number of voting machines. In most of its precincts, the county had only one voting machine for every 230 registered voters; state law requires no more than 200 voters per machine.”
Most recently, the state of Arizona has come under fire for voter suppression at the polling place during the 2016 primary. Arizonians were forced to stand in line for up to five hours in order to vote, with the most serious problem occurring in Maricopa County, the state’s most populous county. While some have blamed funding or extremely high voter turnout for the controversial polling day, some are more privy to the discrimination Arizona has displayed against minorities in the past. The Nation’s Ari Berman has concluded that it is ultimately the Supreme Court that is to blame for allowing Arizona lawmakers and politicians to continue discriminating against minority voters:
Previously, Maricopa County would have needed to receive federal approval for reducing the number of polling sites, because Arizona was one of 16 states where jurisdictions with a long history of discrimination had to submit their voting changes under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act. This type of change would very likely have been blocked since minorities make up 40 percent of Maricopa County’s population and reducing the number of polling places would have left minority voters worse off. Section 5 blocked 22 voting changes from taking effect in Arizona since the state was covered under the VRA in 1975 for discriminating against Hispanic and Native American voters.
But after the Supreme Court gutted the VRA in 2013, Arizona could make election changes without federal oversight. The long lines in Maricopa County last night were the latest example of the disastrous consequences of that decision.
4. Voting machines and lack of accountability
If one happens to make it to the voting machine – past the restrictive laws and long lines to finally cast a ballot, there is one more factor that might suppress a voter – the actual voting machine. The credibility of voting machines has long been under fire – with one of the most glaringly obvious examples of rigged voting machines occurring in South Carolina in 2010. Within the election, Alvin Greene, an unemployed politician with no campaign staff, headquarters, or website, defeated a former state legislator, Vic Rawl, in the South Carolina Democratic Senate primary. When pressed over the accountability of the voting machines and forced to recount, Charleston County alone “could not account for about 5,500 ballots”. This isn’t the first time voting machines have been brought into question. During the 2004 election, questions were raised over Former President George W. Bush’s win over Kerry.
Stanford University computer science professor and founder of Verified Voting Foundation, David Dill, puts it simply: “If you have a machine collecting and recording votes with an electronic ballot box there’s no way to go back after the fact and see if the machine made a mistake, whether through malice or simple software error.”
5. Suppression through thought and rhetoric
In 2014, just a few days before the midterm elections, The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press released information about who would show up to the elections – and who wouldn’t. The results were nothing short of alarming:
- Nonvoters are young: 34% of them under the age of 30 – and 70% of them under the age of 50.
- There is a large non-voting minority population: 43% of nonvoters consist of citizens who are Hispanic, African American, or other minorities – whereas only 22% of voters are minorities.
- They are less affluent: 46% (almost half!) of nonvoters bring in family incomes totaling less than $30,000 per year. Likely voters in this category only totaled to 19%.
- They are less educated: More than half – 54% – of nonvoters have not attended college – whereas 72% of the voting population has completed at least some.
“Civic engagement—best exemplified by voting — depends upon an engaged and informed citizenry. But in America, it’s hard to be a good citizen if you’re poor, ignored, or vilified. Life is just too hard to worry about lofty issues such as public policies and partisan political intrigue. Indeed, among too many poor and minority Americans, voting and choosing elected officials just isn’t viewed as essential to their lives.
This tends to come as something of a shock to happy, well-fed, and middle-class or affluent voters, who have a justified belief that the political process works to their benefit. Politicians covet these voters because their confidence in the process makes them more likely to support candidates and head to the polls on Election Day. But that’s just one more illustration of the wide gulf between the haves and have-nots in our society.”
“Your vote doesn’t matter”:
Time and time again, citizens are told that their vote doesn’t matter or doesn’t count – which can lead many not to vote during extremely important elections. One of the most notable recent occurrences in which a citizen was told his vote will not matter was when Alaskan superdelegate, Kim Metcalfe, told him that she would be voting for Hillary Clinton – despite the fact that the state she represents and works for overwhelmingly caucused for Bernie Sanders. When pressed as to why she would be voting for Clinton even though the people she represented and worked for wanted Sanders as their new president, Metcalfe became patronizing and refused to listen.
Despite this rhetoric about votes not mattering, however, it is important to remember that ultimately, our votes do matter – and we must do everything in our power to make sure that they are cast and accounted for. And that can only be done by rejecting and fighting against these laws and various attempts to take them away.