Voter Suppression in the USA
The struggle among the American black population for equal voting rights dates back to the days of the founding of the United States of America. After centuries of struggle for equal voting rights, attempts are still being made to suppress these black voters in the electoral process. Most recently in the southern state of Georgia.
For a long time only white men were allowed to vote. With the advent of The Fifteenth Amendment, from 1870, voting rights were granted to all men, including black men.
But seven years later, this amendment was overruled by the passage of local laws, mostly in the southern states. In the states where this right to vote for black men was not directly withdrawn, voting by black men was deliberately prohibited. For example, literacy tests were introduced. With these tests, it was determined whether the voters could read and write, because only in that case could they vote. At a time when many African Americans did not yet have access to proper education, these tests caused many black men to lose their voting rights. People also had to pay poll taxes, and there were property restrictions that were required in order to vote.
While these requirements were universal, some other arrangement ensured that they were particularly applicable to black voters. The Grandfather Clause was implemented at the end of the 19th century. This stated that those entitled to vote and whose grandfather had already had the right to vote were exempted from the above requirements. Since the black population had only recently acquired the right to vote, this excluded almost all of them from possible exemption, and thus, made voting for them a whole lot more difficult.
For a long time, such arrangements remained in effect. That is why the civil rights movement and voting rights initiatives arose in 1960, under the leadership of Martin Luther King, among others. One of the most significant events from this period was the Selma to Montgomery March, in which protesters marched in order to demand voting rights, but they were confronted with deadly violence by the state. By means of an inexhaustible perseverance, such movements have eventually managed to implement new regulations. Thus, in 1964, the Civil Rights Act was created, which banned many discriminatory structures, and a year later the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was created. This Act is still considered one of the most far-reaching pieces of civil rights law in American history.
However, despite these positive developments in the last century, the suppression of the African American voter has not yet come to an end.
In the United States’ presidential election of 2020, the state of Georgia had a record voting turnout which led to the state being in favour for the Democrats. Subsequently, the former president Donald J. Trump publicly promoted that the elections were stolen from him and propagated unfounded fraud claims. As a result, new GOP-led state legislatures were designed by Republicans to challenge and amend voting laws which, among other things, imposes identification requirements for absentee ballots, limits ballot drop boxes and shortens runoff elections.
Because of these new regulations, lines for polling stations in certain neighbourhoods are only getting longer. To top this, it is now even made a crime to provide people who are waiting in line with food or water. A human rights-violating regulation called ‘’un-American’’ by President Biden. Besides Georgia, Texas and Arizona are at the top of the pack for changes in voting laws, as these ‘Sunbelt’ states are on a path towards Democratic dominance. Therefore, Republicans try to correct it by imposing new voting laws which, according to them, serve to restore election ‘integrity’ and combat ‘voter fraud’.
Although the law changes are stated to reinforce ‘election security’, it places disproportionate burdens on voters of colour as well as people with disabilities. For example, long lines to vote are mostly common in Black neighbourhoods in Georgia, as the density of polling stations is much lower in these neighbourhoods already. Moreover, restricting early voting on the weekends would limit the so-called ‘souls to the polls’ tradition in Black communities across the country to vote after Sunday church services. By bringing Black people together, churches usually make it more comfortable to go vote and engage in the civic duty.
The new laws will severely diminish one of the Black church’s central roles in civic engagement and elections, leading to many critics and activists saying it recalls some of the racist voting laws from the state’s past. This means that the passage of these bills will hinder the voting power of people of colour, who make up roughly one-third of Georgia state’s population. The Black community played an outsized role in the last elections, as almost ninety percent of the votes of this community in the last elections were in favour of Joe Biden. Many critics state that the laws are used by Republicans to suppress voting among Black people and other racial minorities who tend to vote Democratic. But this is now being thwarted.
“Instead of winning new voters, you rig the system against their participation, and you steal the right to vote” said activist and politician Stacey Abrams.
These recent developments make it clear that there is still a long way to go. Several lawsuits have since been filed to overturn the new regulations.
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