QC Model UN Presents:
Voter Suppression and The Threat It Poses to American Democracy
Author: Sara Hosseini
Voter suppression is not an unfamiliar term to Americans. We learn about it in school when discussing the civil rights era. We learn that during the Jim Crow era, tactics such as poll taxes, literacy exams, and Klan members waiting outside poll doors were all used to prevent the Black and other people of color from voting in the United States. Our only knowledge of it seems to be limited to a single time period and we only recognize it as something that happened in just the past. What we were taught in schools was hiding the true ugly history of voter suppression that has been involved in every single presidential election in America. The first signs of voter suppression in America weren’t even just against people of color, it was against the lower and uneducated classes in America. The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College system not to give Southern states fair chances against the more populated cities, as many assume, but because they believed that the outer stretches of America were not educated enough to vote fairly for a president. It has been embedded in America's foundation so there should be no surprise that voter suppression is alive and well today.
Attention was brought to the issue of voter suppression during the 2016 election, where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote yet still lost the presidency. While Black voters were aware of how difficult it can be for them to vote, many other Americans were starting to realize this for the first time. In multiple states, poll sites were shut down, forcing many neighborhoods to go to a single polling site making the wait be 8 hours or more. Certain states required voters to show a valid photo ID, leaving many unable to vote. Wisconsin was one of those very states; where only 27,000 votes separated Trump and Clinton, 300,000 voters lacked the proper state IDs to vote. North Carolina closed down 158 polling stations in 40 counties, all with large Black communities. As a result, African American voter participation was down 16 percent. There are countless other examples of this same suppression, most targeting low-income and minority neighborhoods. (For further examples of voter suppression in 2016, read the report done by the Center for American Progress linked here )
To understand the full effects of voter suppression and that they always permeated through the United States, we have to understand both the Electoral College and gerrymandering. For those who do not understand how the Electoral College works, when you vote for a president you are technically not voting for the person running, you are voting for how your state elector will vote. Each state has a specific amount of electors that is supposed to be in ratio to their population. Some time after the election is decided, the electors come together and put in their votes according to how their area of the state voted. Is it possible for an elector to vote differently? Yes, this is a possible option, but it rarely happens and is a big deal when it does. Recently the Electoral College has been under fire since it is becoming more common for a candidate to win the popular vote, but not the electoral college vote. The popular vote is the total number of votes in the United States, so every person's vote equals one vote. To clarify how this can happen, the number of votes is not proportionate in every state; for example, with the number of electors they are given, there are 712,000 people to every one elector in California while there are only 195,000 people per elector in Wisconsin. So a single vote in Wisconsin technically counts more than a vote in California. Many Republicans claim that this is beneficial to make sure that big cities don’t control the vote, but it puts those in populated areas at a great disadvantage. Gerrymandering is another large issue when it comes to the electoral college, for the electoral college to work there needs to be districts to be drawn. All of these districts have a single elector to represent their majority vote, gerrymandering is drawing those lines in a specific way to split districts to better benefit a political party. The Washington Post pointed out in 2014 that the Democrats were underrepresented by seats in the House in comparison to 2012. There have now been multiple calls from elected officials for the Electoral College to be abolished to count everyone's votes fairly.
The 2020 election saw the same amount of voter suppression including many attempts to make mail-in voting more difficult. Donald Trump’s team also filed multiple lawsuits against states where he was losing, most of the cases being dismissed. Supporters of Trump also went to vote-counting stations, chanting either “Stop the Count” or “Count All the Votes”, whichever favored Trump in that specific state. Now in 2021, multiple states, including Georgia, Arizona, and Pennsylvania, have introduced bills making voting more difficult. These states are using false claims of widespread voter fraud during the 2020 election as an excuse. Most of these bills will make IDs and Social Security Numbers necessary to allow one to vote. It also limits mail-in voting, which was used largely during the 2020 election due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The majority of these introduced laws will mainly affect lower-income communities and minority heavy communities as it has done in the past. While it seems inevitable that specific parties introduce rules and guidelines for it to favor them in future elections, people of color and lower-income individuals will continue to have their vote suppressed unless the voting system undergoes massive changes.