Though the Jim Crow Era is something we read about as a part of our past, this is not to suggest the right to vote, particularly of minorities, is secure. Following the previous presidential election, a battle has ensued in the courts and in Congress over voting access, with one side vowing to guarantee the right to vote and the other vowing to ensure the integrity of the voting process.
Of course, these two objectives are not mutually exclusive. In reality, prior to the current proposals and passage of voting restrictions, the Cyber Security & Infrastructure Security Agency determined the election to be exceptionally secure—despite concerns over fraudulent activity enabled by the unprecedented level of mail-in voting due to COVID-19. Seemingly, the passage of voting restriction legislation has to do with more than just election integrity.
Thus, at the roots of this issue, we find a political battle over what could potentially be election-deciding votes. Though voting restrictions can and are framed as initiatives of election integrity, the direct result is something much more sinister. Recent election reforms such as voter I.D. laws, restrictions on early voting, and limits to mail-in voting, target specific demographics within the electorate.
For example, individuals who lack official I.D.’s are more likely to be below the poverty line and are disproportionally non-white. Additionally, the limits on early voting and mail-in voting can have a negative effect on turnout of students and individuals with disabilities, among others. Notably, partly due to rhetoric used prior to the previous presidential race, voters identifying with the Democratic Party were more likely to use these alternatives to traditional, in-person voting. Furthermore, minority votes are limited due to a lack of translated election material for individuals speaking English as a second language.
Whether or not the effects of these proposals are intended, their consequences are evident. The citizen engagement restricted by these actions is critical to a healthy democracy, particularly in a time as politically volatile as today. Maintaining a fully representative democracy where all individuals are able to participate in elections is essential. Not only is it important for the stability of democracy, but it also has a number of additional benefits.
Enabling all of the electorate to have easy access to voting buttresses the legitimacy of government. Maintaining a close connection between public programs and the appropriately represented electorate builds commitment to ensure the success of such programs, crucial in a time where disengagement and distrust between the government and constituents is prevalent. Moreover, voter engagement from minority groups can usher in creative solutions to long-standing issues, thereby contributing to the preservation of a robust and resilient democratic system.
While the ACLU and many other such organizations work diligently to ensure access to voting for minorities, the threats of minority vote suppression we are experiencing today requires engagement across all levels of society. Particularly, many of these voting restrictions are being passed at the state levels. Therefore, while the federal government may be an important source of countering these initiatives, individual activity between constituents and their state representatives will be a key facet of foiling minority vote suppression.
By: Salem Thomas, EKU graduate assistant