Voter Suppression's Antibiotic Resistance and Metamorphosis

Saswani
10 min readNov 2, 2020

Voter Suppression and its Affected Communities

In 1960 on Election Day, Clarence Gaskin walked into a polling location with the intention of casting his presidential ballot. An individual at the polling booth quickly scanned his body and motioned to a coworker to direct him. Gaskin was immediately led to a room with four objects: a jar of corn, a watermelon, a bar of soap, and a cucumber. Confused, Gaskin questioned the nature of the situation. He was then prompted with a series of four unanswerable questions that are as follows. Firstly, he was asked, “how many kernels of corn are in the jar”? Secondly, “How many seeds in the watermelon”. Third, “How many bubbles in the bar of soap” and finally, “how many bumps on the cucumber” (Brennan Center). Gaskin quickly understood that it was merely more than a coincidence that the color of his skin was met with this line of questioning. Gaskin did not even bother answering any of the four questions because he clearly understood that his race inhibited him from voting.

Although this anecdote may seem trivial, ancient, and just the experience of one colored individual, it is jarringly similar to the voting experiences of millions of minorities in this country. While it is agreed upon that the tactics depicted in this anecdote are unpracticed and illegal today, voter suppression is still ever-present, but adapted. Tactics of suppressing the minority vote have transformed into a covert operation in United States elections. For the validity of this claim, we need not look far. A study from the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) and the magazine The Atlantic provided evidence that there are fundamental barriers to the ballot for many Black and Latino voters. The study communicated that this issue is inherently complex to dismember because the majority of voter laws are racially neutral. Unfortunately, it is only through the observed application of the law that we see racial minorities subjugated and burdened by the outcomes of these laws. This discussion will not only explore voter suppression, but its evolution, “antibiotic resistance”, and the everlasting effects of our traumatic Jim Crow plagued American history. Upon completion of this dialogue, it will be evident that there are foundational wounds in our history demanding reparation and this in turn impedes upon our ability to fulfill the promise of “democracy” in the United States.

Shelby v. Holder and ID Statute

When asked about minority voting rights in the United States the instinctual answer is usually the momentous Voting Rights Act of 1965. This policy ensured that neither local governments nor states were able to pass laws that denied American citizens their equal right to vote based on race. The Supreme Court decided to take away a provision within this statute on June 25, 2013. In this case, Shelby County v. Holder, Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act was held as unconstitutional. Section 5 of this act states that particular jurisdictions that have a history of discrimination must have any proposed changes approved by the United States Department of Justice or a Federal District Court located in D.C.(ACLU). The rationale behind Section 5 was to ensure that minority voters would be protected regardless of the change in statutes. Without this clause within the Voting Rights Act of 1965, states would have their own jurisdiction over voting laws and would be able to enact statute without any official authorization. This presents a clear opportunity for state abuses. The beloved Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg argued in her dissenting opinion that there is a “current need to target potential state abuses” (Oyez).

Unfortunately, without the Federal Government’s official authorization, states have been able to pass laws that appear racially neutral but only through their application we have seen the horrid racial disparity in voting. For example, voter ID laws require voters to give a government-issued photo ID to vote, and there are no tangible options for those who do not have an ID. The law uses the rationale that IDs are essential to protect the “integrity” of elections and usage of identification will prevent voter impersonation fraud. A study from Columbia University showed that the probability of voter fraud is actually very rare. Additionally, this study drew the conclusion that “the historically disenfranchised are often the target of voter fraud allegations”. Specifically, Columbia stated that “immigrants, blacks and lower status voters… still struggle for full inclusion into American life” (Columbia University). Still, supporters of the law argue that there is a trivial burden because all people have the requisite ID. This claim is inherently false because data shows that Americans of color disproportionately do not have the required IDs to vote. Unfortunately, since 2000 twenty-five states have enacted strict voter ID statute which clearly inhibits the almost 20 million colored Americans that do not have this identification (Time Magazine). By no coincidence are these individuals young, low income, and colored. Thus, although this law does not seem explicitly racist in its diction or verbiage, the aftermath of this law unfairly targets people of color.

Native American Statute Discrimination

To illustrate, North Dakota is another example of a state that has strict voter ID laws that inhibit minority voting. The state has a voting-eligible population of about 580,000 and a whopping 70,000 do not have the requisite ID to vote (American Bar). North Dakota requires that the IDs must have a printed street address and P.O. boxes do not qualify. A point of note is that Native Americans strictly use P.O. boxes as their “addresses” because they do not have residential mailing addresses. This is done in this manner because the U.S. Postal Service does not deliver to rural communities. Assuming that all Americans are able to register to vote in their residential addresses undermines millions of individuals who live on cultural reservations. For individuals who reside on reservations, they are unable to have equal access to voter registration services. Additionally, they do not have the standard broadband high-speed internet capacities that a metropolitan city would. The reality is that less than half the homes on reservations have the broadband capacity (American Bar).

Native American Identification

Finally, it is crucial to consider that the majority of online voter registration systems require an official state ID for voting registration. Tribal IDs are not classified as “official identification” and thus, Native Americans are inhibited from exercising their rights. Particular states have passed further limiting legislation where reservation individuals need to have official identification filed with governmental departments. Arizona statute specifically states that people must have state IDs and residential addresses filed in the Department of Motor Vehicles in order to complete the online registration (Project Vote). Due to the fact that Native Americans’ addresses do not “count” as official residences coupled with Native American identification deemed “unofficial”, this entire voting group is suppressed. Thus, these laws unfairly target Native Americans because these are the individuals affected.

Even if Native Americans are able to overcome the barrier of nontraditional addresses, official identification, and voter registration, they may be obstructed from voting by the vote-by-mail system and the absence of polling facilities. Because the United States Postal Service system does not frequently deliver to rural reservations if mail is to be received at all it is often late. Statistics show that non-Hispanic whites are about three hundred and fifty percent more likely to receive mail than Native Americans in the state of Arizona (NPR). By its very nature, it is biased to assume that an individual has the easy ability to pick up a voting ballot and then return it to a ballot dropbox. For many Native Americans, polling locations on their reservations are geographically far and for those who do not have cars, this task can often be strenuous. Additionally, if these conditions are overcome, language barriers present immeasurable challenges to the voting experience. Because many Native Americans speak exclusively oral languages, translation assistance is required for in-person voting (Berkeley). Fundamentally for those who do not read and write in their native language, voting by mail is not possible.

Absence of Polling Locations

Finally, one of the most troubling issues that have affected Native populations in America is the readiness for elected officials to remove polling locations in minority areas. For example, in the 2008 election, the state of Alaska decided to remove polling locations for Alaskan Native villages. Argued under the guise of “district realignment”, this statute resulted in voters having to travel by plane just to cast their ballots. This clear obstruction of the Native vote led to thousands of individuals either choosing to fly in order to cast their vote or to not vote at all. A point of note is that there was already a pending lawsuit between Native populations and the Alaskan government on the topic of the underwhelming amount of polling locations in Native areas. This lawsuit was lengthy, pending, and not met with any substantial outcome. For many native populations, they found this governmental decision deeply offensive and it discouraged them from exercising their right to vote. Other native populations became invigorated and sued for violation of the Voting Rights Act (Berekely).

In Arizona, the Kaibab Paiute Tribe was forced to travel about 280 miles in 2016 and 2018 in order to cast their ballot early. Similarly, Pima County shut down their early voting on Native reservations and this left Pascua Yaqui voters with the only option of waiting two hours just to vote early. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of examples that illustrate the extreme conditions that native populations endure in order to cast their vote. In Mandan Hidatsa Reservation located in North Dakota, voters were forced to travel a whopping one hundred miles just to cast a ballot (Oversight). It is embarrassing to our “American pride” that these issues are consistent and normalized.

Increased rates of urbanization make policymakers extremely insensitive and uneducated towards these cultural issues. There is an increasingly large gap between urbanized cities and rural communities. Laws are constructed and crafted by those who do not experience any of these hardships and thus individuals not considered suffer. Policymakers overlook that it is extremely difficult for individuals to even get to a polling location or vote by mail. These opportunities are assumed as standard for all individuals in the United States but this is simply not the case. It is essential to consider what American democracy stands for and who it is designed to protect. Unfortunately, it has become evident that there is a fundamental bias towards those who are not minorities or have language barriers. The availability of resources should be a priority for Policymakers and Native American populations should be weighed equally in the consideration of policy decisions. Essential markers of democracy such as available polling locations and easy vote by mail options should be an American standard rather than a utopian fantasy.

Georgia, Brian Kemp, and Exact Match Laws

Another example of a state engaging in voter suppression tactics in Georgia. The Georgia state government has been extremely controversial in their voting decisions by actively choosing to close polling locations, cut back on early voting, and disturbing voter roll norms. They have removed ten percent of individuals from voting rolls and data shows that almost two million people have been removed from 2012–2016. In a story from the Associated Press, popular Republican Brian Kemp was shown to suppress 53,000 voter registrations in Georgia. From this shockingly large number, 70 percent were African American and 80 percent were people of color. Georgia was able to achieve this by using the “exact voter match system” (Berekely). This system rejects the voter registration of forms that have trivial factual errors in the “name” section. If the name did not “exactly match” other state databases, the individuals who submitted the form would receive a failed application status. In order to fix the problem, it was up to the individual to contact the appropriate election official to correct this minor inaccuracy that obstructed them from voting. Understandably, it became very confusing for many voters to receive mail that stated they were unable to vote and their application was denied. Many individuals reportedly wondered if they were not allowed to vote in the first place and withdrew from political participation altogether. Minorities are clearly more likely to be victims of this “exact match system” because they are more unfamiliar to those who work the elections. Because many African-American, Native American, Asian-American or Latino individuals have a higher probability of a spelling inaccuracy in their names, this clearly leads to an unfair disadvantage towards people of color. Those working elections may enter their names incorrectly due to unfamiliarity or be unable to recognize a name due to pronunciation. Thus, people of color are unjustly ending up on pending registration lists due to this law.

What Can be Done?

Today, both individuals and organizations are rampantly fighting for justice. They are bringing voter discrimination cases to court in order to correct the wrongdoings of the past. Although there are many states that have passed legislation through the strike down of Section 3 of the Voting Rights Act, many states are using their power to correct these atrocities. States like New Jersey are individually calling minority voters to educate them about overcoming minority voting restrictions (Public Integrity). Additionally, to combat the language barrier, they are creating voting information in various languages such as Spanish, Korean, Gujarati, and English. Additionally, public figures have attempted to bring light to this issue by enacting voting rights campaigns which have gotten a lot of attention from mainstream media. Apart from this, there is hope for legal change. Multiple lawsuits have been targeted towards the GOP party for their tactics that have suppressed the minority vote. Although this is true, many public officials encourage individuals to overcome voter suppression through education. Through educating minorities about their obstacles, they will be able to attempt voting in overwhelming numbers. Many political organizers have helped communities by using their platform to make minorities aware of obstacles, potential harassment, and misinformation on polling locations. Social media platforms have been very successful for this aim and they continue to not only correct misinformation, but also spread true information about voting. It is only through targeting this horrible virus of voter suppression that we will be able to create a successful antibiotic against it; education and truth.

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