In the United States, everyone needs to be able to exercise their right to vote. But many people struggle to do so. It is especially true for people of color, low-income Americans, and people with disabilities.
People can be prevented from exercising their voting rights in various legal and illegal ways, including voter suppression laws, redistricting practices, and voter registration purges. These efforts vary by state, local government, precinct, and election.
Voter suppression laws are a growing problem in the United States. They often target specific groups of voters, such as people of color, women, the elderly, or college students.
Voter ID laws make it harder for people to vote. They disproportionately affect voters of color, women, the disabled, and low-income families.
The Voter Suppression Bill in Georgia includes several other changes that would make it harder for people to vote. For example, it criminalizes offering food and water, requires photo ID, and makes it illegal to give voters food or water while waiting in line.
Criminalization of the Ballot Box
The criminalization of the ballot box threatens the ability of all voters to exercise their right to vote and to voice their political views at polling locations. It also imposes onerous barriers that disenfranchise people who need assistance to vote, including seniors, military members, and people with disabilities, while keeping a large portion of the voting population out of the polls.
The most pernicious effect of voter suppression is that it often disproportionately impacts communities suffering from mass incarceration and over-policing. States are increasingly making it more challenging to obtain the government-issued photo IDs required to vote. In addition, they are restricting registration rules that ensure voters are registered before an election.
Lawmakers in many states have pushed for bills to make it a felony to collect absentee ballots or vote on behalf of others, a practice known as “ballot harvesting.”
Voter ID Laws
Many state legislatures have enacted voter ID laws in recent years, arguing that these laws are necessary to prevent fraud and ensure the integrity of the ballot box. However, critics say these laws disenfranchise voters, predominantly low-income and minority people, who are less likely to own the types of identification required by these statutes.
Voters are frequently required under voter ID legislation to present a photo ID, such as a passport or driver’s license. However, many Americans need a valid photo ID and help to afford one.
Despite supporters’ claims that strict ID laws are necessary to protect against fraud, research shows these laws have not prevented scams. And they have disproportionately impacted people who already lack access to the identification now required by these laws, including low-income Americans, people of color, and young people.
Voter Registration Rules
Voter registration rules vary widely nationwide, particularly by state and local government. In most states, individuals may register only to vote once they reach age 18. The National Voters Right Act also requires states to ensure that new voters are registered in time for their next election and that their registration information is accurate and up-to-date.
In addition, the NVRA requires that a person’s change of address is reported to the appropriate office by a designated agent, such as a local board of elections, and that the voter’s registration information is kept separately from other voter records. It can help ensure that registrants are not accidentally purged from the voter rolls when they move out of the state.
There are many ways that people can be purged from voter rolls, but some are particularly dangerous and designed to keep specific demographics away from the ballot box. These include automatic purges of voters who have voted less than once, have moved from one state to another, or haven’t voted in a particular election in two years.
Voter Disenfranchisement for Felony Convictions
Many individuals are unaware that a felony conviction can result in their losing their ability to vote. It can be a charge as minor as driving without a license or as severe as trespassing on a construction site.
Felon disenfranchisement laws are among the most widespread and racially discriminatory forms of voter suppression in the United States. These laws prohibit individuals convicted of certain crimes from voting in all elections, even after they’ve completed their sentence and paid any fines or restitution that might be associated with the offense.
The disproportionate impact of these laws on African Americans is especially alarming.
As of 2016, four states barred all convicted felonies from ever voting again, regardless of the completion of their sentences. However, more states have enacted policies to curtail this practice since then.
In addition, people with felony convictions who are out of prison but on probation or parole can usually regain their voting rights once they’ve completed their terms. But they may have to pay all outstanding fines, fees, and restitution, and some states also require a period before restoration.