Source: Michael Latner/UCS

November Elections and the Art of Voter Suppression

, Kendall Science Fellow | October 15, 2018, 9:00 am EST
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Voting rights violations are emerging across several states with less than a month before the conclusion of midterm elections in the United States. As a result of discriminatory election laws and procedures, representation and policy making power could be distorted in favor of powerful, entrenched interests, against the will of a majority of the electorate. The threat of such democratic dysfunction illustrates the need for meaningful electoral reform and the protection of voting rights for all citizens.

Early voting is underway in seventeen states, including at least two states where voting rights have already become a flashpoint in pivotal elections.

In North Dakota, Senator Heidi Heitkamp and challenger Kevin Cramer is in a race that Cook Political Report rates as a “toss up.” The election could determine control over the US Senate—but the Supreme Court of the United States just refused to block the state’s discriminatory practice of requiring voter identification from a residential street address.

Because the US Postal Service does not provide delivery to rural reservations in North Dakota, most Native American tribal members use P.O. Boxes, which is listed on their identification. The state’s voter identification law specifically requires a street address for valid identification. Earlier this year a district found that nearly 5,000 members of North Dakota tribes lack valid identification, and many of them also lack supplementary documentation that allow them to cast a provisional ballot. Senator Heitkamp won her last election by fewer than 3,000 votes.

In an even more egregious smear on democracy, Georgia gubernatorial candidate and current Secretary of State Brian Kemp has frozen over 50,000 registration applications, most of them from African-American voters, according to an AP analysis. Kemp claims “voter roll maintenance” is necessary to preserve the integrity of elections and ensure that only legal citizens are voting. However, previous scientific and legal challenges have shown that voter impersonation is nearly non-existent.

Moreover, Kemp’s “exact match” tactic used to remove unvalidated voters from the state registration file was already prohibited as a violation of voting equality in a previous lawsuit, but the law was reinstated by the state legislature to allow for a “curing” of unmatched voters records within, wait for it, 26 months. Kemp has chosen to keep using this method despite scientific studies that show there are far superior methods for record matching.

Even though he knows about the disproportionate, discriminatory impact these laws have on African-American voters in Georgia, Kemp maintains that he is a defender of electoral integrity. His opponent Stacy Abrams, who would become the first African-American woman elected governor in the United States if she won, has a different title for Kemp: a “remarkable architect of voter suppression.”

Earlier this year, a Brennan Center analysis estimated that the purging of registered voters from state files has increased by approximately four million people since 2008. Much of the increase is attributed to states that were previously covered under the 1965 Voting Rights Act preclearance provisions.

The Mississippi governor’s race in 2019 may similarly turn on Jim Crow era electoral restrictions. Popular Attorney General Jim Hood has an opportunity to be the state’s first Democratic governor in nearly two decades. However, the state constitution requires that the governor win not just a majority of the popular vote, but a majority of state House seats, which are heavily gerrymandered in favor of the incumbent party.

These and other restrictive election laws are distorting the representation of voters across the country, weakening the ability of already under-represented groups to protect their own health and safety. This is just one of many reasons why it is so important that citizens exercise their voting rights and mobilize communities to elect candidates that will advance effective electoral reforms before 2020.

Be sure to check your voter registration status at https://866ourvote.org/

If you or anyone you know believe that their voting rights are being denied, you can call the following numbers for legal assistance:

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Election Protection Hotline: 866-OUR-VOTE

American Civil Liberties Union Voter Protection Hotline: 877-523-2792

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