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Race and Ethnic Relations: Voter Suppression

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For many years voter suppression has been used as a way to stifle the voices of many people. Minorities are especially susceptible to being suppressed. Suppression is a tactic used to dispirit or stop a particular group from voting in hopes of swaying the outcome of an election. Suppression can have many different effects on the persons or group of people who are targeted. Emotionally one can become enraged at being treated unfairly thus becoming irritated and could decide not to vote. Mentally the group being suppressed can become unmotivated to cast a vote and would most likely avoid the situation rather than jump through hoops to vote. Voter suppression can take many forms. For example in certain Los Angeles counties in California voters who’s names were not on the voting list were not given an opportunity to vote provisionally. Instead they were turned away and told they could not vote. In the 39th district where the electoral race was close, it was found that it’s minority population was “35% Hispanic, and 31% Asian, according to statistics from the Almanac of American Politics”. These statistics played a key role in the outcome of that districts election race. Other forms of suppression include strict voter identification requirements, reduction of in state services, moving polling locations and felony disenfranchisement. In 1965 the Voting Act Right was signed which declared “that throughout the nation no person shall be denied the right to vote on account of race or color and outlawed the requirement that voters take literacy tests to qualify for the right to vote.”

Although many acts and laws were passed throughout the late twentieth century many other voting requirements were made in order to fulfill the obligations for one to vote successfully. These requirements seemingly targeted at minorities. In many states such as Ohio, Mississippi and Texas many rules have been set forth and changed regarding the voter id requirements. Before the year of 2006 it was not mandatory for a voter to have a picture ID in order to vote in the United States. “Today ten states have this requirement. All told, a total of 33 states representing more than half the nation’s population have some version of voter identification rules on the books” . With these new requirements being implemented on short notice the majority of minorities are unable to vote. With the recent flow of immigrants into the United States one could argue that the ID requirements are needed to keep people from voting illegally. One could also say that these new laws are aimed specifically at minorities as many do not have access or transportation or services to obtain a photo identification. In states such as Arizona if a photo ID cannot be provided, one has the option to have a billing statement and social security card to show proof of citizenship and residency. Many minorities do not have billing statements because they reside with family and do not have sole ownership of a house. If a voter can provide a billing statement and identification it often cannot be accepted because another requirement is that the address on the identification card and billing statement must match. Often times it does not, thus leaving the voter discouraged and unable to place his or her vote. Strict ID laws have often played a big role in the outcomes of an election. “By instituting strict voter ID laws, states can alter the electorate and shift outcomes toward those on the right. Where these laws are enacted, the influence of Democrats and liberals wanes and the power of Republicans grow. Unsurprisingly, these strict ID laws are passed almost exclusively by Republican legislatures.”

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In the state of Mississippi the voter ID conditions posed a serious problem for minority voters during the 2015 elections. Due to the strict identification requirements set in to law, by then Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann many Mississippians found themselves unable to vote. Those requirements included a driver’s license, a government employee ID card or a firearms license. With twenty percent of Mississippi’s population in poverty it is unlikely that they would have any of the documents needed to cast a successful vote. While there is an option for one to obtain a voter’s ID card, the documents needed to acquire one are the same documents one would need to vote. In the county of Hinds many black voters did not vote due to the fact that they did not have proper identification due to their lack of access to the services that provide picture identification. “Hosemann has become the state’s Votemeister-General, deciding who will be allowed to vote and who will not. Hosemann prides himself for thinking up ways to suppress certain citizens from voting. His key weapon: state-issued photo ID”. The state of Mississippi has a long history of discrimination and it comes as no surprise that the state would set fourth new rules and regulations that would hinder and discourage minorities from voting. According to the census as of July 21, 2017, “forty four percent of the state’s populous come from a minority group. Thirty eight percent of that total is of black or African descent”.

The state of Mississippi claims the strict sets of guidelines were set to prevent mishaps and voter fraud. But there has not been any evidence given by the state to support these claims. Many believe these new rules and regulation were put in place to keep poor minorities from voting. Many minorities living in poverty cannot afford to pay for a photo ID. With the state of As the minority populations grow, the state will change rules and regulation to keep the state from becoming democratic which would favor minorities.In the year of 2011 the state of Texas released a set of voting rules that would cause an outrage throughout the state. The Texas populous argued that the new guidelines for voting were specifically aimed at minorities who would not be able to meet the strict requirements needed to cast a successful vote. Those requirements included “driver’s license, election identification certificate, personal identification card, or concealed handgun license issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety or a United States Military identification card containing the person’s photograph”. The Latino and black population are least likely to have any of these documents. Another setback for minorities in the state of Texas is the distance from their place of residency to towns and cities that provide the services one would need to obtain the documents needed to vote successfully. “Before the change in law, Texas voters could show a voter registration certificate or another document, such as a utility bill, that listed their name but didn’t necessarily have a photo on it”.

In 2017 the state of Texas amended a law that would render the state to adopt a non strict ID policy. Now if voters can provide a copy of a “current utility bill, a bank statement, a government check or paycheck”. Many head officials within the Texas government were outraged with the ruling and vowed to appeal the decision made by governor Greg Abbot. People who opposed the rule change fear they the state of Texas is now vulnerable to voter’s fraud. Problems such as voting twice in one county and the abuse of absentee ballots could jeopardize the integrity of future elections and their outcome. “Attorney General Ken Paxton called the ruling “outrageous” and vowed to appeal the decision with the 5th Circuit. The ruling is the latest loss for Texas on the issue of voting rights”.

The state of Arizona has a strict non-photo ID law. Arizona residents are required to have’ picture identification and any form of government ID. Also accepted is an Arizona vehicle registration, a bank statement and or property tax statement. This sets up the minority population for failure. With the poverty rate in Arizona at “fifteen percent” (Census AZ) many voters do not have funds or support to acquire the proper documents needed to cast a vote. Many minorities in the state reside in rural areas and do not have any means of transportation, thus making it difficult for one to reach the services that provide the proper identification or paperwork needed to cast a vote. Another obstacle voters in Arizona have to face, are the lines at the polls. A reduction in places where one could cast a vote has discouraged many from voting. In Maricopa county “the Leadership Conference for Civil Rights surveyed 381 of the 800 counties previously covered by Section 5 where polling place information was available in 2012 or 2014 and found there are 868 fewer places to cast a ballot in 2016 in these areas”. For the 2018 election Arizona has made many changes to the voting ID requirements. Voters can now use an Indian Census card or can mix and match a passport with matching identification. Another option for a one to successfully cast a vote is the use of a “utility bill of the elector that is dated within 90 days of the date of the election. A utility bill may be for electric, gas, water, solid waste, sewer, telephone, cellular phone, or cable television”.

Although these changes will be implemented before the 2018 elections in September and October, voters remain skeptical about the voting requirements and how it will affect them when that day comes. The state of Ohio has a strict ID requirement, if those requirements are not met voters are allowed to vote with a provisional ballot. Some of the requirements needed to have a successful vote in Ohio are as follows: “One must have an unexpired and valid driver’s license, a military identification, a government issued photo ID. The government identification must contain the voters name and current address and an expiration date that has not passed.” Due to these strict ID laws many minorities in the state cannot cast a vote, for reasons that are beyond their control. With the increase of the minority population in the state, I feel the state will keep its strict ID law status in place. In 2015 the state of Ohio purged thousands of voters for failing to respond to the states election officials. “By definition purge is to ride a group or organization of unwanted people”. Because the majority of the minority populations in Ohio were unable to meet the requirements needed to vote, they were more likely to be on the list of people being purged. In June 2018, the state of Ohio’s decision to purge voting rights was approved by the Supreme Court stating that “Ohio is not stripping people of the right to vote solely because they failed to vote, but also because they didn’t return the address confirmation form”. Many residents of Ohio claimed that they had never received any mail from government officials and purging their right to vote is uncalled for and unjust. U.S. Congress woman Joyce Beatty “fears that the Supreme Court’s decision allowing the State of Ohio to continue its aggressive voter purge will make it much harder for Ohioans to vote, especially communities of color, veterans and vulnerable populations, and may prevent many more Americans from freely exercising their constitutional right to vote if other states follow suit”. Georgia is one of seven states to enforce a strict voter ID laws. Many requirements have to be met for a resident of the state to cast a vote. Like other states that enforce a strict identification policy one must provide a picture ID to vote. Those forms of photo identification include a state driver’s license, any form of picture identification issued by the state of Georgia or any government agency or a U.S passport. “A voter without one of the acceptable forms of photo identification can vote on a provisional ballot. He or she will have up to three days after the election to present appropriate photo identification at the county registrar’s office in order for the provisional ballot to be counted”. According to the census website the state poverty rate is at fifteen percent. Because of the high poverty rate among minorities many find themselves unable to meet the requirements to vote, due to lack of income and services. “Thirty two percent of the state’s population consists of black or African Americans. While Hispanics make up nearly ten percent of the stats minority population. “

The Hispanic population in Georgia has had a significant increase in population. “Between 2000 and 2010, metro Atlanta’s Hispanic/Latino population grew from 268,851 to 547,400. That’s a rate of 118%. The region is expected to add 821,541 more Hispanic/Latino residents by 2040, for a 150% increase 2010-2040”. I believe this was one of many reasons Georgia also decided to start purging voters from the state’s voters list. The state is taking advantage of minority voters who cannot meet the states requirements to place a vote. In early 2018 the state of Georgia chose to purge its inactive voters. A lawsuit was that challenged the decision was set to be sent to the Supreme Court. After the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Ohio’s law that also purged voters the lawsuit was dropped. Voters who have not had any contact with election officials in the past three years are subject for removal in the state of Georgia.

Across the United States one of the minority groups who face a difficult time trying to vote are Native Americans. Distance is one of many obstacles that Native American face living on reservations. Services that provide the proper identification to cast a vote may three to four hours away. With many Native American living in poverty many do not have transportation nor can they afford a vehicle. Although states like Arizona does not have a strict identification law, other requirements cannot be met by some Native American communities. Some of those requirements are vehicle registration, a bank statement and a property tax statement. These requirements cannot be met: due to the fact that “twenty eight percent of Native Americans across the United States live in poverty”. Because of this high percentage many Native American cannot vote. Seemingly there is no solution to the obstacles Native American and other minorities must face. “Some might ask why Native communities can’t just vote absentee by mail. It is not that easy. Although circumstances can vary, illiteracy rates are extremely high in some Native areas” (Landreth). They have been set up for failure and many states may follow the lead of Georgia and Ohio and purge its voters. Tribal members in Arizona were told they could use their tribal identification to cast a vote. So many did not feel the need to obtain or acquire additional documents needed to vote. But when it came time to vote many tribal members were turned away from voting polls and were told a tribal identification could not be used to vote. Because a tribal identification does not have a physical address listed on the card they were deemed useless at the polls. “Local jurisdictions don’t always provide translators or polling locations on reservations, and tougher state voter identification laws have created problems for those who don’t have birth certificates or only have tribal ID”. In my experience during the 2016 election I witnessed unfair treatment of voters in my section of the reservation. Many voters were misinformed and the monitor had no answers to the question being asked. Many voters had early ballots they had already filled out. However their names were not on the list of early ballot voters and therefore they could not vote. Voters who had shown up with tribal identifications were not allowed to vote because the tribal identification was not accepted. Other voter who had shown up with a driver’s license were told they needed a second document such as a bill or a vehicle registration, because the address on the drivers license did not match the address written on voters list. This is because most residents have a long rural address. So the address on the driver’s license was shortened, therefore it did not match the address on the voters list. When the monitor called the election officials to get questions answered the phone lines were always busy. Voters became discouraged and left. Elders who needed the rules and instruction interpreted for them were unable to cast a vote because they could not understand. We were not provided with an interpreter and although all who worked the polls spoke our native language we were told by the monitor that we could not help and only an appointed official was allowed to do so. Other voters found deceased next to their names and became enraged after being told they could not cast a vote.

Before the November election I raised my concerns at the training poll workers attended a week prior to the elections. I made sure we had an interpreter assigned to our area and wanted to inspect the equipment that was given to us. I also wanted answers on what to do in certain situations that we found ourselves in during the September elections. I believe that many of the problems we faced during the previous elections came from misinformation and miscommunication. After gaining information from the proper officials the November elections had fewer discrepancies. Although I still feel Native Americans are at major disadvantage in trying to cast a successful vote.

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