Elections in the United States are held for government officials at the federal, state, and local levels. While the United States Constitution does set rules for the election of federal officials, state law regulates most aspects of elections in the U.S., including primaries, the eligibility of voters (beyond the constitutional definition), the running of each state’s electoral college, and the running of state and local elections. All elections are administered by the states.
The restriction of voting rights to different groups has been a battle throughout United States history. The financing of elections has also long been controversial, because private sources make up substantial amounts of campaign contributions, especially in federal elections. The constitution states that suffrage cannot be denied on grounds of race or color, sex, or age for citizens eighteen years or older. Beyond these qualifications, it is the responsibility of state legislatures to regulate voter eligibility. Some states ban convicted criminals, especially felons, from voting for a fixed period of time or indefinitely.
All U.S. states except North Dakota require that citizens who wish to vote be registered. Traditionally, voters had to register at state offices to vote, but in the mid-1990s efforts were made by the federal to make registering easier, in an attempt to increase turnout. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 required state governments that receive certain types of federal funding to make the voter registration easier by providing uniform registration through drivers’ license registration centers, disability centers, schools, libraries, and mail-in registration. Other states allow citizens same-day registration on Election Day.
Voters unable or unwilling to vote at polling stations on Election Day could vote via absentee ballots, depending on state law. Originally these ballots were for people who could not go to the polling place on Election Day. Now some states let them be used for convenience, but state laws still call them absentee ballots.
According to Article I, Section 4, of the United States Constitution, the authority to regulate the time, place, and manner of federal elections is up to each State, unless Congress legislates otherwise.
On 7 November 2020, the United States pulled back from re-electing a president who repeatedly showed disdain for democratic norms and institutions. Since then, in states that tipped the win to Biden, and even a few states that are starting to lean Democrat, the GOP have been trying to implement laws to limit voting, citing the lies of Trump and other GOP about election fraud (while presenting 0 proof), it simply stating they are allowed to do so by the constitution (Article I, Section 4 “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof”).
Voter suppression has been a part of the United States political scene since the start. From Jim Crow laws to the gutting of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, citizens of the United States, particularly of color, have been disenfranchised in blatant and subtle ways. But voter suppression has been a tool historically used to deter Black Americans and other minorities from voting. “It is important to acknowledge that it has always, or almost for the entire history of our country, been about race, that voter suppression has been inextricably intertwined with an attempt to stop first Black men, and since then other people of color from voting,” Sean Morales-Doyle, deputy director of Voting Rights and Elections at the Brennan Center, told ABC News.
After the Civil War, three amendments, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments, to ensure equality for African Americans in the South. The 13th Amendment, ratified in 1865, abolished slavery and indentured servitude (outside of prison terms). The 14th Amendment, ratified in 1868, gave African Americans “equal protection under the laws.” However, the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, barred states from disenfranchising voters on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.
The 15th Amendment, however, did not provide automatic voting rights for African Americans. Congress did not provide enforcement for the 15th Amendment right away. Tennessee was the last state to formally ratify the amendment in 1997. Voting rights were also denied for those convicted of crimes through felon disenfranchisement laws.
By 1870, 28 states had adopted a version of these laws prohibiting convicted felons the right to vote, according to the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, a peer-reviewed study published by the Northwestern University School of Law. Some states still have these laws. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, only two states, Maine and Vermont, gives everyone the uninhibited right to vote. Three states currently disenfranchise felons from voting permanently: Iowa, Kentucky and Virginia.
Southern states also enforced rules commonly known as the Jim Crow laws, which mandated segregation in public, particularly between white and Black Americans. Poll tax was one of the Jim Crow laws. Poll taxes discouraged those who could not afford to pay from voting and were a prerequisite to register to vote in Jim Crow states. Poll taxes disproportionately affected Black voters.
Poll taxes continued into the 20th century. As of 1964, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Texas and Virginia held on to poll taxes, reported the New York Times in a Jan. 24, 1964 article.
Literacy tests were also used to stop people who were illiterate from participating in the voting process (seeing as that would largely hit the black community, at the time they thought, the hardest). Literacy tests were administered at the whim of those in charge of voter registration and often discriminated against African Americans. Literary tests asked civics questions such as “In which document or writing is the Bill of Rights found?” or “Name two of the purposes of the U.S. Constitution” as found in a 1965 Alabama literacy test. African Americans who took part in these test were descendants of slaves who were not allowed to read or write in several states due to anti-literacy laws. Convenient”
White men who could not pass the literacy tests were able to vote due to the “Grandfather Clause” allowing them to participate in voting if their grandfathers voted by 1867. Also, convenient”
That grandfather clause was ruled unconstitutional in 1915. Poll taxes were abolished in 1964 with the 24th Amendment and literacy tests were outlawed under the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Before the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the 19th Amendment was the first amendment that assured women in the United States the right to vote by stating “the right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.” However, when ratified 100 years ago, the 19th Amendment did not guarantee Black women the right to vote.
According to National Geographic, “In fall 1920, many Black women showed up at the polls.” In Kent County, Delaware, their numbers were “unusually large,” according to Wilmington’s News Journal, but officials turned away Black women who “failed to comply with the constitutional tests.”
“Even though theoretically women, Black women for example, should have had the right to vote under the provision, as a practical matter, we know that that certainly was not the case and remains not a fully realized reality for many Black women, women of color in this country,” Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the Voting Rights Project for the ACLU, told ABC News.
“[As for gerrymandering,] I think that’s very much tied into the story of voter suppression even though I think a lot of times people think of it as something a little bit different,” Lakin said.
Gerrymandering is also considered to be another form of voter suppression as it is defined by Merriam-Webster as “to divide or arrange (a territorial unit) into election districts in a way that gives one political party an unfair advantage.” Christina Greer, an associate professor of Political Science at Fordham University, said gerrymandering “ultimately does hinder people from the right to vote.”
“[It] either dilutes their vote, or it makes it hyper-concentrated so it dilutes in other places. It’s packing and cracking and you can use mathematical solutions to look at a state, and look at where people of color are, especially Black people in a particular area distributed throughout the state,” Greer said. “And you can make districts where you can either pack them all into one or two districts.”
After the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, several changes within the United States government were made to get more people registered to vote. Lowering the age to vote from 21 to 18 with the ratification of the 26th Amendment during the Vietnam War, allowed more people across the country to register to vote. The National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly known as the “Motor Voter Act,” for example.
However, the fight to get more people to vote and the progress that came after the Voting Rights Act came to a screeching halt after the 2013 U.S. Supreme Court case, Shelby County v. Holder, changed the way the Voting Rights Act was implemented nationwide.
In a 5-4 decision, Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act was ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. According to the Department of Justice, “Section 4(a) of the Act established a formula to identify those areas and to provide for more stringent remedies where appropriate. The first of these targeted remedies was a five-year suspension of ‘a test or device,’ such as a literacy test as a prerequisite to register to vote.” The 2013 decision ruled that “the coverage formula set forth in Section 4(b) of the Act was unconstitutional, and as a consequence, no jurisdictions are now subject to the coverage formula in Section 4(b) or to Sections 4(f)(4) and 5 of Act. Accordingly, guidance information regarding termination of coverage under Section 4(a) of the Voting Rights Act (i.e., bailout) from certain of the Act’s special provisions is no longer necessary.”
Chief Justice John Roberts said the Voting Rights Act was based on the “decades-old data and eradicated practices … such [literary] tests” and that they “have been banned nationwide for over 40 years.”
While Jim Crow laws were banned nationwide because of the act, the floodgates were opened to allow states across the country to implement “massive dents” to the voting infrastructure in the United States, according to the Brennan Center.
After Joe Biden defeated Donald Trump in the 2020 presidential election, Republican lawmakers around the nation began attacking the voting methods (that until that point were no issue) used in the election. More than 250 bills in 43 states (as of March, 2021) have been proposed by GOP lawmakers meant to restrict voting.
Take strict voter ID. These laws require voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to vote, and they offer no fallback options for people who do not possess one of these IDs. Like their Jim Crow predecessors, voter ID laws are defended by reference to a racially neutral need to defend the “integrity” of elections. Specifically, defenders claim that voter ID laws are needed to combat voter impersonation fraud. But study after study has shown that voter impersonation fraud is vanishingly rare. Many claim that these laws impose little burden because everyone has the requisite ID. However, the reality is that millions of Americans don’t, and they are disproportionately people of color.
In 2019, Tennessee created new hurdles for third-party voter registration drives in response to a “large-scale effort to register black voters” ahead of the 2018 election.
In 2017, Georgia enacted an “exact match” law mandating that voters’ names on registration records must exactly match their names on approved forms of identification. In the lead up to the 2018 election, 80 percent of Georgia voters whose registrations were blocked by this were people of color. (A lawsuit forced the state to largely end the policy in 2019.)
Furthermore, the Brennan Center has documented a surge in voter purges, the sometimes error filled process by which officials remove allegedly ineligible voters from the rolls, in jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination in voting.
The Supreme Court’s 2013 Voting Rights Act decision ended the requirement for those places to get permission (or “preclearance”) from the federal government before changing their voting rules. Afterwards, the median purge rate in counties previously covered by the law was 40 percent higher than other jurisdictions.
According to a new analysis by the Brennan Center for Justice, 253 bills to restrict voting access have been introduced in 43 states within the first 3 months of 2021. Georgia is ground zero, targeting the voting methods that were used most by Democratic voters in 2020 and which contributed to flipping the state blue and electing two Democratic senators (methods the GOP had no issues with until now). Georgia’s Republican Senate Majority Leader Mike Dugan made a bill removing “no-excuse absentee voting”, which 1.3 million Georgians used in 2020, part of which were 450,000 Republicans. Under this, only a small section of voters, those who are out of town, disabled, or over 65 (a demographic that is strongly Republican), will be eligible to vote by mail. The small percentage of Georgians who can still cast ballots by mail will have to get a witness signature on their ballot as well as a copy of photo identification, which requires a copier or printer. This new law would make Georgia one of the most restrictive states for mail voting. Georgia Republicans for many years promoted mail voting, specifically exempting mail ballots from voter ID requirements because they didn’t want their own voters, who are older and more rural, to be disenfranchised. They abruptly had a change of heart in November, when more Democrats than Republicans voted by mail for the first time (I wonder why”).
That bill came on the heels of legislation introduced by Georgia House Republicans that would eliminate voting on Sunday, a measure designed to suppress Black turnout by targeting the Souls to the Polls get-out-the-vote drives by Black churches. The bill has been dubbed “Jim Crow with a suit and tie.” by Stacy Abrams. Black voters make up 30 percent of Georgia’s electorate but make up 37 percent of Sunday voters in 2020. The bill also takes aim at mail voting by restricting the mail ballot drop boxes and gives election officials less time to send out ballots and voters less time to return them.
“If this bill is [passed],” April Albright of Black Voters Matter testified before the committee, “it will become part of the long history of voter suppression tactics that are used to disproportionately make it harder for Black and marginalized voters in Georgia to vote.”
The same bill also radically changes the rules of runoff elections after Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their January 5 runoff races. It shortens the runoff period from nine weeks to four, cuts early voting to just five days, and prohibits new voters from registering for the runoffs after November, all of which will make it harder for Democratic candidates. The changes in the House bill would have impacted 2.2 million voters in 2020, according to an analysis by the Georgia Democratic Party.
Some high-profile Republicans in Georgia, including Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, have repeatedly defended the integrity of their state’s voting system, holding three recounts in the presidential election that found no evidence of fraud. But that hasn’t stopped Republicans in the legislature from amplifying Donald Trump’s Big Lie to build support for new restrictions on voting. “Many of these bills are reactionary to a three month disinformation campaign that could have been prevented,” Raffensperger said. Showing it is not a united front in that state.
Iowa Republicans are on the verge of enacting a bill that would cut nine days of early voting and severely restrict mail voting by cutting ballot drop boxes to one per county.
The same thing is happening in Florida, which Trump pointed to as a model for secure mail voting and where Trump himself voted absentee (and won that state in 2020). But Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis has called for restricting mail voting (for no valid reason) by blocking election officials from automatically mailing ballots to voters who’ve cast said ballots in the past and makes it easier to throw those ballots out for minor errors.
On average, African American voters are required to wait in line for twice as long as white voters. Strict voter ID laws disproportionately burden voters of color. Purging voter rolls unduly targets people of color” Asked by right-wing theocratic Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett to explain the Arizona GOP’s desire in upholding a state law that disqualifies ballots cast in the wrong precinct (a restriction that voting rights advocates say discriminates against people of color, an assessment backed up last year by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals), Republican lawyer Michael Carvin responded that striking down the regulation would put “us at a competitive disadvantage relative to Democrats.” Meaning they wouldn’t get elected because the people do not actually want them. Trump said during an appearance on Fox & Friends, “The things they had in there were crazy. They had things, levels of voting that if you’d ever agreed to it, you’d never have a Republican elected in this country again.” Democrats often accuse Republicans of deliberately making it hard to vote in order to keep minorities, immigrants, young people and other groups from voting. And Republicans often say they oppose voting reforms because of voter fraud (which is extremely rare) or concerns over having the federal government run elections. But Trump’s remarks reveal how at least some Republicans have long known that voting barriers are a necessary part of their political self-preservation.
All of this is nothing new. “I don’t want everybody to vote,” Paul Weyrich, a conservative activist, said in 1980. “As a matter of fact, our leverage in the elections quite candidly goes up as the voting populace goes down.” Lindesay Graham claimed that “if we don’t do something about voting by mail, we’re going to lose the ability to elect a Republican in this country.”
David Daley, author of the national bestseller Ratf**ked: Why Your Vote Doesn’t Count and Unrigged: How Americans Fought Back, Slayed the Gerrymander, and Reinvented Democracy, interviewed GOP operatives for The New Republic, including Bill Kristol, whom he said was “the neoconservative force behind a generation of Republican policy positions, who has turned Never Trumper.” Kristol told Daley that the GOP “lost faith in democracy. We lost faith that we could compete for votes and win elections. Therefore, you’ve got to start restricting the electorate. First we’re going to gerrymander. Then we’re going to suppress the votes in inner cities. Then we’re going to discredit mail-in voting,” Kristol said, detailing his party’s strategy to win in spite of its lack of popular support by a majority of voters. “It’s all of a piece in terms of the unwillingness to value a fair, open, and legitimate intellectual process.”
Utah senator Mike Lee tweeted, “Democracy isn’t the objective; liberty, peace, and prospefity [sic] are . . . Rank democracy can thwart that,” he was echoing William F. Buckley’s insistence in 1957 that “the claims of civilization supersede those of universal suffrage.”
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich drew posted a tweet that criticized Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger for making it easier for absentee voting during the coronavirus pandemic. “Why is Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger working so hard to add drop boxes and take other steps to make it harder for Republicans to win?” tweeted Gingrich, who represented Georgia in the House for 20 years. “Is he really that intimidated by Stacey Abrams?”
GOP Arizona state Rep. John Kavanagh suggested that excluding voters from the election process would be good by saying “Not everybody wants to vote, and if somebody is uninterested in voting, that probably means that they’re totally uninformed on the issues,” he said. “Quantity is important, but we have to look at the quality of votes, as well.”
The explosion of new GOP bills making it harder to vote is creating massive pressure on Democrats in Washington to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Act (that Mitch McConnell purposefully sat in limbo) and the For the People Act to stop new voter suppression efforts.
Remember, earlier I posted part of Article I, Section 4, I will post its entirety now” “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”
The important part being “Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations”. It’s important because Texas GOP Sen. John Cornyn on Sunday blasted the “For the People Act” as a “hijacking of state and local election laws.” He must have skipped that part of the constitution. The founders added that part because of things like what is going on now (albeit, not about minorities, but they knew states had the potential to disenfranchise the American people in general). The GOP fascist authoritarian, and blatant racist behavior is why that part was added. It’s time we use it. In 2013, in a 7-to-2 decision in Arizona v. Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, writing for the majority, reaffirmed that: “The power of Congress over the ‘Times, Places and Manner’ of congressional elections ‘is paramount, and may be exercised at any time, and…The regulations effected supersede those of the State which are inconsistent therewith.'”
When it comes down to it, these new laws have nothing to do with any actual concern about voting integrity. They are meant to stamp down opposing voters. It is voting fraud and disenfranchisement. Personally, I think every lawmaker making/proposing these laws should be prosecuted and jailed.Print