7 Small Things You Can Do to Fight Voter Suppression
If you're frustrated about a lack of voter turnout in elections (nearly half of Americans eligible to vote never do, Politico reports), you shouldn't simply be asking, why aren't people voting?, but instead, what barriers are holding them back? Voter suppression is an issue that's existed as long as voting has, and it's a serious threat to our democracy. Tappan Vickery, director of voter engagement at HeadCount, broadly defines voter suppression as, "anytime we systemically create barriers that make it harder for people to have access to the polls or make it more confusing for what they need to do to access the polls."
Basically, you shouldn't need a degree in political science to figure out how voting works and you shouldn't have to jump through a bunch of administrative hoops just to cast your ballot. In many places, however, that's not far from the reality of the situation. Across the country, various rules and regulations have been put in place that make it harder for Americans—particularly Black people, the elderly, students, and people with disabilities—to vote.
Though people often cite the ratification of the 19th Amendment (which prohibits the government from using sex as a criterion for voting rights) as the moment when equal voting access was achieved, that's unfortunately not the case. Long after that 1920 Constitutional landmark, state laws like poll taxes and literacy tests blocked many Black Americans from exercising their right to vote and kept them disenfranchised. Today, a long list of obstacles—like strict voter ID laws, gerrymandering, felony disenfranchisement, limited polling locations, and an overall lack of access to voting information—do the same, affecting Black Americans and other marginalized communities the most.
Another form of voter suppression? The promotion of the idea that your vote doesn't matter. In a time where about 180,000 Americans have died due to coronavirus (COVID-19) and Black people continue to be killed by police in disproportionately high numbers, distrust in the system is understandable and warranted. As Shaniqua McClendon, the political director at Crooked Media says, however, "Your vote only matters if you actually vote," explaining that elected officials pay the most attention to those who vote.
"It's really hard to make a politician care about someone who doesn't participate in the process," she adds. "Is that fair? Is that the way it should be? Absolutely not, but it is the way it is."
So, one of the first ways to fight voter suppression is, of course, to vote—and to vote for those who have invested interests in breaking down barriers to voting access. Crystal Carson, communications director for When We All Vote, advocates for a "put your mask on first" kind of voting plan. Once you've laid what you need to do for the upcoming election—whether that involves checking your registration, requesting an absentee ballot, or finding your polling place—then you can look toward ways to help others do the same. But if you're looking for more ways to fight voter suppression, read below.