Here at Princeton, we have access to a wealth of information about voting in the upcoming midterm elections. At lunch, you can peruse a flyer with information about the registration and absentee ballots for your state. Have a question about absentee or early voting? Ask someone at the Vote 100 table in Frist Campus Center. But what about the people for whom voting isn’t so easy? Republicans are trying to restrict access to voting, and it is undermining our democracy.
In the 2013 case Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled a policy from the 1965 Voting Rights Act unconstitutional, wherein counties with a history of racial discrimination in their voting laws had to have any changes to those laws cleared by the federal government. This ruling has opened the way for more restrictive voting laws, many with discriminatory effects. Since 2010, 23 states have enacted new voting restrictions, mostly on voter identification and registration.
The first type of voter suppression tactic is voter identification laws. The strictness of the ID requirements varies by state, but the suppressive effect is two-fold: Not only are people turned away at the polls because they do not have the proper form of identification, but these laws also deter them from showing up at all.
As many as 23,000 registered voters in just two Wisconsin counties, most of whom voted in 2012, did not cast a ballot in 2016 because of newly passed voter ID laws. About half of the nonvoters lacked a proper ID to vote, and half did not vote because they mistakenly believed they lacked the appropriate ID. Voter ID laws not only prevent people who lack the necessary ID from voting, but also depress the turnout of people who can still vote within the restrictions of the new laws.
The effects of voter ID laws aren’t random, either. A report found that “the burdens of voter ID fell disproportionately on low-income and minority populations,” groups who tend to vote for Democrats. Indeed, 25 percent of black voting-age citizens did not have a government-issued photo ID, compared with 8 percent of white voting-age citizens. When an appeals court struck down North Carolina’s voter ID law in 2016, it stated that Republicans had “targeted African-Americans with almost surgical precision” when selecting which IDs would be required.
Voter ID laws will also affect this year’s elections. For example, the Supreme Court ruled on Oct. 9 in support of a voter ID law disenfranchising 70,000 North Dakotans, disproportionately affecting Native Americans.
Like the Wisconsin law, North Dakota’s policy will likely have a broader effect on voter turnout due to the confusion around it, given the change in the law between the June primaries and the November elections. Justices Ginsburg and Kagan noted this “all too real risk” of “grand-scale voter confusion” in their dissent. This confusion could have a significant effect in North Dakota, a key state in the battle for the Senate, where every vote counts. Just two months after Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-S.D.) won in 2012 by fewer than three thousand votes, the Republican North Dakota legislature began introducing voter ID legislation.
Voter purges are another tactic used to perpetuate the history of voter suppression.
In Georgia’s gubernatorial race, Brian Kemp, the Republican candidate, currently oversees elections as secretary of state. An “exact match” law passed in 2017 has allowed Kemp’s office to suspend 53,000 voter registration applications due to inconsistencies as small as an entry error or misplaced hyphen between the applications and other government documents. Georgia’s population is 32 percent black, but 70 percent of the people whose applications are currently suspended are black.
These people can still vote if they bring proper ID to the polls, but like the voter ID laws, the confusion created with the controversy can lead to depressed turnout. If they do not vote in one election cycle or contact election officials, their suspended registration will be canceled after 26 months. This is but one example of the voter purges going on across the country, many of which disproportionately affect black voters. It’s no coincidence that areas like Georgia with a history of racial discrimination have higher levels of voter purging.
Supporters of voting restrictions often invoke the risk of voter fraud, claiming these laws are a way to protect the integrity of our elections. That would be compelling if there were evidence of such a threat. But an analysis of over 1 billion ballots cast from 2000 to 2014 found just 31 credible allegations of voter impersonation.
If Republicans truly wanted to improve our elections by requiring proper IDs to cut down on fraud, they should focus on helping people get the documentation they need, not making it harder. The nation as a whole could use the kind of voter promotion program we have here.
In fact, Republican political figures have admitted they use claims of voter fraud as an excuse to make it harder for Democrats to vote. Florida’s former Republican Party Chairman, Jim Greer, called appeals to voter fraud a “marketing ploy,” while Republican consultant Carter Wrenn said, “Of course it’s political. Why else would you do it?” These are but two of many examples of Republicans describing how they use voter ID laws, among other restrictions, to suppress Democratic support.
Both from the disproportionate effects of voter ID laws and analysis of the intent behind them, it is clear that this is a form of voter suppression devised to silence the voices of Americans most in need of representation.
So, what does this mean for us at Princeton? First, check the identification requirements for your state, and make sure you are in a position to cast your ballot on Nov. 6. Then, think about how you can use your vote to speak for the people who cannot.
Vote for representatives who will focus on enfranchisement, not voter suppression. Look for a ballot initiative related to these issues, like automatic voter registration in Nevada, a new voter ID law in North Carolina, and a measure in Florida that would restore the right to vote to people formerly incarcerated for felonies.
Our democracy depends on the right to vote, and everyone has a right to have their voice heard. Don’t take your vote for granted, and don’t forget the people whose votes are being suppressed.
Julia Chaffers is a first-year student from Wellesley, Mass. She can be reached at email@example.com.