On Thursday, March 25, Georgia Republicans passed a sweeping voter suppression bill into law. Under the guise of ensuring a “secure, accessible, and fair” elections process, the Georgia legislature passed the bill within a few hours of its proposal. This bill is a blatant effort to prevent people from voting, disenfranchising millions of minority voters in the state. Unfortunately, this sort of policymaking isn’t a new phenomenon. While it would be nice to pass this off as simply the aftershock of the 2020 election debacle, the United States has a long history of voter suppression that continues today.
Historically, voter suppression was blatant and codified in federal law. Originally, only white, landowning, males were given the right to vote. This was eventually expanded to all white males, and then to black males. However, even after the 15th Amendment enfranchised black men, states imposed more subtle methods to prevent them from voting in elections. Many southern states created literacy tests, imposed poll taxes, and prevented inmates from voting. These literacy tests were intentionally confusing and poll taxes made it difficult for economically disadvantaged individuals, like former slaves, to vote. For decades, African Americans were effectively taken out of the voting population despite having the right guaranteed by the Constitution. Fortunately, the Civil Rights Acts of 1964 and 1968 helped to delegitimize these voter suppression laws and allowed for more voter registration among the black population. However, efforts to suppress minority votes didn’t end there; they just got more clever.
Modern voter suppression legislation is disguised behind cunning rhetoric and claims of good intentions. One of the most common of these methods is requiring voter ID. What’s interesting about this, is that it seems completely reasonable at first; I wouldn’t blame anyone for initially supporting this policy. Unfortunately, this piece of legislation is clearly targeted at minority communities. Minority groups are far less likely to have a form of ID, and acquiring an ID costs money which can be a prohibitive factor for many individuals. It’s no coincidence that many of the voters affected by this legislation are people of color, as they primarily vote Democrat. The new bill passed in Georgia contains several statutes that would have a similar effect. The bill requires voter ID for absentee ballots, limits the availability of ballot drop boxes, and makes it illegal to give food or water to voters waiting in line. These policies are not just isolated to Georgia, as many battleground states have pushed for legislation that will restrict people’s ability to vote.
These pushes for legislation have been justified by Donald Trump’s claims that the 2020 election was rigged in favor of Joe Biden. As a result, state legislative bodies have been able to easily push these restrictive policies through their respective legislatures. In response, the Biden administration has stated that they will do everything in their power to halt these pieces of legislation. However, the federal government’s ability to control the actions of states is limited, especially during a time when there are many other large problems that need to be addressed. While ideally, a federal initiative presenting the proliferation of voter suppression laws would be put into law, in the meantime it is up to grassroots activists to maintain our voting rights. Organizations like the ACLU, the Brennan Center for Justice, and When We All Vote all work to ensure voter enfranchisement across the country. Donating time and money to the organizations can ensure that one of our most important civil liberties is protected.