This Is What Voter Suppression Looks Like

As Georgia gears up for its twin Senate runoffs, the topic is top of mind.

by Paulina Jayne Isaac
Originally Published: 
Raphael Warnock and Stacey Abrams
Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc./Getty Images

On Jan. 5, two runoff Senate races in Georgia could decide which party, Republican or Democrat, claims majority control of the U.S. Senate. Earlier this month, the longtime red state flipped blue in the general election, supporting President-elect Joe Biden. (A recount this week confirmed the results.) As policy ideas resurface in the next few weeks, so too will conversations about voter suppression in the Peach State.

Throughout the 2020 election cycle, voter suppression was top of mind. There have been blatant examples, like setting ballot boxes on fire or tossing out legally cast ballots, which Sen. Lindsey Graham pressured Georgia's secretary of state to do. But there are also subtler ways to make voting difficult.

In a conversation with Bustle in September, Stacey Abrams outlined three tools to identify voter suppression: “Are they stopping you from registering and staying on the rolls? Are they stopping you from casting your ballot? Are they preventing it from being counted?” she said. Abrams, through her years as Georgia state’s house minority leader, prioritized increasing voter registration and turnout, and in doing so, re-enfranchising thousands of Georgians. Here are seven examples of voter suppression from the past year.


Voter Identification Laws

Even though voting fraud is extremely rare, some politicians use it as justification for enforcing strict ID requirements at the polls. Thirty-six states have such laws. (You can find state-by-state laws here.) However, this disproportionately affects minority communities, disabled voters, and voters who live in rural areas, where there are few transportation options.

And these laws affect voter turnout. More than 21 million U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification, so mandating this leads to an unrepresentative electorate. The U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that tens of thousands of votes could be lost in a single state.


Strict Registration Rules

The American Civil Liberties Union says a common form of voter suppression is when just registering to vote requires excess information, like documents proving citizenship. In Georgia, for example, there's an “exact-match law,” which mandates that voters' registrations exactly mirror their information on state records — with no room for marginal errors. Missing hyphens or apostrophes have been cause to throw out registrations. According to the Associated Press, 53,000 Georgia registrations from their 2018 election were cancelled for this reason, 70% of which belonged to Black voters.


A Reduced Number Of Polling Places

More than 1,200 polling locations have been shut down in southern states in recent years, which many voting rights experts, such as Abrams, view as voter suppression. For rural voters, or voters without transportation, this can make showing up nearly impossible.


Voter Purges

Voter purges are a way for states to remove names from their voter rolls list for a variety of reasons, like if a person is moving to another state, or has passed away. But people are sometimes accidentally removed from rolls, and since not all states allow voter registration on Election Day, people could show up to vote and find out they’re no longer allowed. In Wisconsin, the state's Supreme Court is currently deciding a case about whether 130,000 voters will be removed from rolls.


Felony Disenfranchisement

In states like Kentucky and Virginia, anyone who’s been convicted of a felony-level offense will permanently lose their right to vote. In other states, felony disenfranchisement can affect people in prison, people on parole, people on probation, and even people post-sentence.


Extrajudicial Clothing Rules

In most states, apparel and accessories that endorse a candidate are explicitly banned from polling places. However, a poll worker in Memphis, Tenn., was fired for turning away voters who were wearing masks and shirts with "Black Lives Matter" on them. And in Cummings, Ga., a man named Zack Arias recorded a video of a poll worker telling him he would have to take off his Black Lives Matter shirt to vote. He told USA Today, "I don’t take [Black Lives Matter] as a political issue. It’s a human rights issue; it’s a human equality issue.”


Destruction Of Ballot Boxes

On Oct. 18 and Oct. 25 in Los Angeles, residents set ballot drop boxes on fire. The Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis said in a statement that it had “all the signs of an attempt to disenfranchise voters," and labelled the crime as arson. The FBI is also investigating a similar fire in Boston, which election officials say was a "deliberate attack."

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