Art by Emily Bao
The ability to vote should not be a privilege, but a fundamental right of any American citizen. However, when the United States was founded, only upper-class white men were afforded the right to vote. America was founded on the idea that “all men were created equal,” but this was far from the truth. Women, Native Americans, African Americans, and lower-class white members of society were not represented at the Constitutional Convention. Therefore, their rights were neither fought for nor protected in the Constitution.
Fortunately, by 1971 the Twenty-Sixth Amendment allowed all citizens the age of 18 or older to vote. However, in 2008, states across the nation passed voter suppression laws in an attempt to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. In particular, these laws target Native Americans, black Americans, the elderly, students, and those with disabilities. Voter suppression laws are often used to manipulate the outcomes of elections.
Voter suppression is directly attacking voter rights. Government officials pass these laws under the pretext of preventing voter fraud. However, these laws are directly affecting the weight of someone’s vote, as well as making it more difficult to vote. Recent history has demonstrated many examples of this suppression; the following highlight some of these forms of oppression. Throughout the history of the United States, Native Americans have been systematically oppressed. They have been denied citizenship and isolated to reservations, in addition to other forms of discrimination. This prejudice has ultimately led to a depressed socioeconomic status. It also creates difficulties for Native Americans to obtain citizenship, which makes it difficult for tribal members to vote effectively in local, state, and national elections.
Another example of voter suppression that often occurs is making voter identification laws extremely specific and strict. In 36 of the 50 states, there are specific identification requirements; in seven states there are strict photo ID laws that force voters to present one of a very limited set of forms, without which they are not allowed to cast a ballot. Another aspect that makes it difficult for voters is that IDs can be quite costly, and even if they are free, the forms needed to obtain the identification can be expensive. Due to this, over 21 million Americans do not have government-issued photo identification. Also, an official ID must be taken in certain locations that a citizen is responsible for getting themselves to, a fact that can make it difficult for the elderly, people with disabilities, or citizens who live in rural areas to obtain the necessary identification. Many of the official locations are not handicap friendly or conveniently located. These laws effectively suppress many voters. Based on an estimation by the United States Government Accountability Office, voter turnout has reduced by 2-3 percent (tens of thousands of votes in a state) as a result of these laws.
Along with voter ID laws, voter registration restrictions are another form of voter suppression. An example is not allowing someone to vote if they do not have proof of citizenship such as a passport or birth certificate with them. This law in particular prevented 30,000 Kansans from voting; however, in 2018 the ACLU sued and defeated this law. Another form of restriction is requiring voters to register a certain amount of days before the election day. For example, in New York voters have to register at least 25-days before the election, which creates an unnecessary burden for New York voters. In fact, at least 90,000 New Yorkers’ votes were not considered because they did not meet the cut-off. These laws made sense in the past when ballots were all done by hand and mailed slowly, but in this day and age are unnecessary.
Many organizations such as ACLU, Let America Vote, and Spread the Vote are fighting for the rights of voters and attempting to outlaw these voter suppression laws. It is an American citizen’s fundamental right to vote, and it is essential to understand the laws that attempt to subdue Americans’ voices.