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Voting in the United States: A Constant Uphill Battle

Liz Garbus’s All In: The Fight for Democracy is the most vital documentary you can see this year. An indictment of voter suppression, the film lays out the damage being done by Republicans, the how and why they are doing it, and, most importantly, what we can do to stop it. The film debuted at the Telluride Film Festival and is streaming on Amazon Prime on September 18.

While literacy tests have long been eliminated, politicians have pieced together other tactics, including voter ID laws, which make it harder for some people to vote, and gerrymandering, which rigs voter boundaries to partisan advantage.

 All In: The Fight for Democracy marshals the voices of politicians, journalists, and academics to sound the alarm. Even if you have little interest in voting or politics, this is a worthwhile peak behind the curtain that helps explain why President Donald Trump is tweeting about mail-in ballots. 

With Stacey Abrams onboard as both producer and interviewee, the movie interweaves the past 150 years of disenfranchisement with her own relevant story. She claims that voter oppression in Georgia was a key factor in her loss to Governor Brian Kemp, a Republican who was then in charge of the state’s voting process. Kemp comes off as a  villain—with a master plan to eliminate votes by auto-purging polling stations. 

For Abrams, voting has marked her life and her career. While other college students were partying, she was working for the Democratic Party. In archival footage, we see Abrams as a student at Spelman University, preaching the importance of democracy on live television. At another point, she remembers her grandmother telling her about casting her first vote, after the Voting Rights Act passed, and how dangerous it was for Black Americans to go to the polls. The story is brought to life by stylized animation, a technique Garbus uses to visualize our country’s fraught history.

Carol Anderson, a professor of African American studies at Emory University, refers to the current array of voter disenfranchisement as “Jim Crow 2.0.” She takes a stroll through history, from the Civil War to the ratification of the thirteenth, fourteenth, and fifteenth amendments, the Reconstruction Era, women’s suffrage, and the civil rights movement from the 1960s to present day. Shedraws attention to human stories, such as the fate of WWII veteran Maceo Snipes, the only Black person to vote in Taylor County, Georgia, in 1946, who was murdered three days later by the KKK. His killer walked free.


The state of Georgia, with its long history of voter suppression, looms large in the film, as screenwriter Jack Youngleson argues that every advancement made for voting rights in the United States is met with a counterreaction to weaken those rights.

One of the most visible and tragic tactics was the literacy test. In 1890, Georgia politicians overrode Reconstruction laws by enforcing a list of questions for Black voters to fill out before voting; one example:, “What does the Constitution of the United States provide regarding the suspension of the privilege of the writ of Habeas corpus?”

Such tactics, Abrams reminds us, are still going on: “States implement voter suppression laws all across the country.” 

While literacy tests have long been eliminated, politicians have pieced together other tactics, including voter ID laws, which make it harder for some people to vote, and gerrymandering, which rigs voter boundaries to partisan advantage.

All in: The Fight for Democracy is a tribute to Abrams, and her ongoing battle against voter suppression. As interviewees Ari Berman, Andrew Young, John Lewis, and Lauren Groh-Wargo attest, Abrams provides a blueprint on how to fight for democracy and how to fight for a voting system that treats everyone as equals.

But the film is more than just a tribute; it’s a civics lesson wrapped in a fiery sermon. When clips of President Lyndon B. Johnson calling for racial justice are juxtaposed with Brian Kemp’s racist ad campaign, it’s a reminder that, no matter how far we come as a country, we can always lose our progress. And our vote.

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