A Guardian of Modern American Democracy
Voter ID laws, mass purges of voter rolls, and systemic disenfranchisement disallow voters to participate and prevent their voices to be heard in the American democracy
To examine the history of voter suppression, we need to look closely at the complicated history of voting rights. Despite the claim in the Constitution that “all men are created equal,” there was an entirely disparate definition of “all men” throughout the first 100 years of America’s founding. Only white men who owned property were allowed to have a say in elections. Even after the 15th Amendment legally stated that Americans can vote regardless of “race, color, or previous condition of servitude,” Jim Crow voting laws during Reconstruction instituted unnecessary barriers to exclude poor, uneducated citizens from the voting system.
In 1867, the percentage of African American adults registered to vote in Mississippi was 66.9 percent, but the intimidation and suppression campaign was so successful that only 3 percent of voting-age African American southerners were registered to vote by the 1940s.
Women were only allowed to vote until the 19th Amendment was passed in 1920, and minorities were only granted easy access to the ballot box with the Voting Rights Act of 1965. After VRA was passed in 1965, voter turnout rates increased. “In the region as a whole, roughly a million new voters were registered within a few years after the bill became law, bringing African American registration to a record 62%.” However, although VRA was successful, the history of voter suppression did not end.
Subtle methods were employed so as to disguise the horrendous acts of voter suppression for the last 60 years. In the 1980’s, a group deemed the National Security Task Force intimidated voters with off-duty police officers turning voters away from polling stations. Disinformation campaigns told unsuspecting voters that voting could continue the day after the 2008 presidential election.
Although these methods were called out and squelched by the courts, there has not been a concerted effort to dismantle these prohibitive barriers to the ballot box. It is crucial that Americans recognize the tactics of those in power and reclaim all of our right to vote.