Voter Suppression Is the Real Election Concern
Have you heard about the boy who cried voter fraud? Unfortunately, it’s not just a story. It’s a myth that has activated voter suppression laws across the country. Claims of voter fraud and “rigged elections” have led to a number of laws that limit Americans’ ability to vote — and just like the boy who cried wolf, these claims all perpetuate misinformation.
The great myth of voter fraud has been perpetuated by one simple tactic: repetition. Politicians have used this story over and over as a fearmongering tactic to get people to support voting restrictions. However, the myth is just that — a myth. Study after study has shown that widespread voter fraud is simply nonexistent. One comprehensive study found a mere 31 instances of voter fraud out of 1 billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014.
Even though the myth of voter fraud has been debunked, there are real and dangerous examples of threats to suffrage emerging in just this election season alone. The root cause is the gutting of the Voting Rights Act (VRA). In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder invalidated Section 5 of the VRA. This removed the preclearance tool, which stated that states or localities that had racially discriminated against voters in the past had to seek approval from the Department of Justice before making any changes to voting laws and procedures. Without preclearance, states with a history of discrimination can freely change laws without anyone’s approval.
My number one role model, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, summed up her feelings on this threat to enfranchisement perfectly. In her dissent of Shelby County v. Holder, she wrote, “Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.” This decision threw out the protections against discrimination under the false pretense that discrimination no longer exists, and as a result, 14 states will have new voting restrictions for this presidential election. Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina were slated to have new voting restrictions as well, but federal judges have since declared voter ID laws illegal in those states, mainly due to the discriminatory nature of the preexisting rules. Clearly, the elimination of preclearance isn’t making things better.
What do voter ID laws actually do? Make it increasingly difficult for Americans to vote, particularly people of color, the elderly, low-income people, and those living in rural America, some of whom may not have driver’s licenses or any means of getting one. Women are also affected by these laws: For example, many women have changed their names after marriage but have not updated their ID cards to reflect that.
Voter ID laws aren’t the only measures that affect people’s ability to vote. Requiring proof of citizenship to vote, eliminating same-day registration, reducing early voting periods, limiting mail-in ballots, setting unreasonable registration deadlines, and curbing voter registration drives also create obstacles to voting. The list of voter restriction tactics is endless, but the end result is the same: Less women and people of color get out to vote.
Though this increase in voter suppression can be discouraging, there are things you can do to ensure you get to exercise your right to vote. Be prepared on Election Day by finding your polling place ahead of time, planning transportation, preparing your forms of identification, and visiting the Election Protection site for other resources. If something goes wrong, call 1-866-OUR-VOTE, Election Protection’s hotline, to ensure a fair and equitable voting process. You can also show support for voting rights by urging your members of Congress to co-sponsor the Voting Rights Amendment Act to restore protections of the VRA and ensure equal access to voting.
Voting is a right that countless women and people of color before us have fought for, and it cannot be taken away by laws that deny equality to those same groups of people. Educate yourself on voters’ issues, volunteer to be a poll watcher or hotline staff, and make yourself heard by casting a ballot. Your vote is your voice.
This blog post was adapted by Aditi Dinakar, AAUW public policy intern, from an original Huffington Post blog written by Lisa Maatz, AAUW vice president of government relations and advocacy, entitled Poll Taxes Make Shameful Comeback in the States.
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