Updated Nov. 13, 2022: A previous version of this post wrongly stated that the Arizona voting rules in the Supreme Court cases were passed after the 2020 election. It also misstated the timing of Joe Biden's remarks about Georgia's legislation.
Written by Hudson Crozier
Voter suppression is commonly understood as any legal or illegal attempt to reduce voting among a particular group, usually a religious, ethnic, or political minority.
- A primary example is the Jim Crow South, where the black vote was deliberately suppressed through poll taxes, arbitrary literacy tests, lynchings of black politicians, and other methods.
- During the Civil Rights era, the U.S. responded with federal protections via the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and ended poll taxes with the 24th Amendment.
Modern comparisons are false: Before and after the 2020 election, several states have passed highly-contested voting laws. Those from Georgia, Arizona, and Texas have been smeared as voter suppression laws, though none of them fit the definition: Each law is focused on verifying the authenticity of each citizen's vote, not on preventing certain groups from voting.
- Shortening the time allowed for absentee ballot requests prior to election day, easing the burden of the USPS to process them
- Restricting ballot drop boxes to early voting periods
- Requiring ID for absentee ballots to ensure authenticity. ID is granted to residents free of charge. Voters may also satisfy the requirement with a ''copy of a current utility bill, bank statement, government check, paycheck, or other government document'' to prove their identity.
- Only mailing absentee ballot applications upon request of the voter, preventing complications in the voting process
- Prohibiting food or drink to be handed out to voters within an improper distance of polls, preventing any undue influence on voters by anything that could be construed as a bribe. Voters may still bring their own food or drink.
- Prohibiting third-party funding toward election officials
Baseless attacks: President Joe Biden called the Georgia bill ''Jim Crow in the 21st century.''
- After its passing, the Justice Department sued the state of Georgia over supposed violations of the Voting Rights Act.
- The New York Times labeled it ''a breathtaking assertion of partisan power,'' criticizing even the ID requirements for absentee ballots. For years, the Times published articles on the dangers of mail-in voting, but they shifted their coverage on the topic in 2020 to invalidate then-President Donald Trump's election fraud claims.
- One activist group claimed, ''This law wasn't designed for 'election integrity' as Republicans have claimed — it was designed to make it harder for voters to reach the ballot box.''
Ballot restrictions are legitimate: The Democratic National Committee brought two of Arizona's pre-2020 voting rules to the Supreme Court. One put restrictions on ''ballot harvesting,'' the act of submitting another person's vote, and the other required provisional ballots to be discarded if submitted to the wrong precinct. The DNC argued the rules were racist because they disparately impacted minority communities, but the court allowed them to stand.
- The majority opinion ruled that ''having to identify one's own polling place and then travel there to vote does not exceed the 'usual burdens of voting''' according to the Voting Rights Act. "On the contrary, these tasks are quintessential examples of the usual burdens of voting."
- Nevertheless, Vox referred to the restrictions as ''one of the most aggressive attacks on voting rights since Jim Crow.'' MSNBC said the court's decision meant that ''just a little voter suppression is legally permissible.''
New protective measures: Research in 2020 showed that voting in Texas was more difficult than in any other state, judging by the process of registering and casting a ballot. In Sep. 2021, the state passed a voting bill that solidified its reputation among critics as a top voter suppression stronghold. Major changes included:
- Banning 24-hour voting to prevent fraudulent activity during overnight hours
- Banning drive-thru voting to ensure a transparent process
- Increasing ID requirements for mail-in ballots
- Prohibiting the state from mailing unsolicited absentee ballot applications
- Requiring those who accompany disabled voters at the polls to document their identity and relationship to the voter and sign an oath to limit their assistance to "reading the ballot to the voter, directing the voter to read the ballot, marking the voter's ballot, or directing the voter to mark the ballot."
- Requiring the Secretary of State's office to check monthly that no non-citizen is on the state's voter rolls
- Allowing poll watchers of any political party ''free movement'' at voting centers to ''see and hear the activity'' and observe the staff's closing procedures to keep them under watch. Poll watchers are prohibited from watching a voter cast a ballot. They must undergo training and may be kicked out by staff without warning if they break the law.
- Expanding early voting hours to grant more time for multiple counties
Politicians played power games: Before and after its passage, the Texas bill was met with more fierce political leveraging and distorted rhetoric from the Left.
- To prevent its passage, Democrats in the Texas legislature arranged a walkout to illegally stall the voting process, denying the proper numbers required for a legislative session to take place.
- The lawmakers issued a statement urging Congress to pass federal election reforms "to protect Texans – and all Americans – from the Trump Republicans' nationwide war on democracy."
- Flying to Washington D.C. to avoid arrest, they met with Vice President Kamala Harris. She publicly praised their actions as "courageous" and reminiscent of America's early suffrage movements.
- After several gave up and returned, Texas' bill was passed into law. The DOJ soon filed another Voting Rights Act lawsuit against the state.
Why It Matters
Federal politicians are challenging state governments: The voter suppression narrative opened a path for Democrats to push federal legislation they had already introduced.
- Democratic Congressmen in 2019 drafted the "For the People Act," a voting rights bill even more radical than the legislation they attempted to pass last January. Stripping the states of election authority was the Democrats’ goal to begin with.
- In January, Biden hinted to the press that without federal intervention, the 2022 midterm elections might be illegitimate: "The increase in the prospect of [the midterms] being illegitimate is in direct proportion to us not being able to get these reforms passed." He added that this wouldn't be the last attempt to usurp state voting laws.
The Left's voting rights campaign will likely persist into the midterms.