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  • Kayla Arch

A Right, Not a Privilege: Voter Suppression in America

With election day just passing us on November 8th, it reminds us of the importance of voting and our part in the democratic system. One of the very foundations of our democracy is using our voices to elect the officials that we want in office, reflecting the beliefs of the majority of the American people. But, the history of voting in America is tainted.

Although the 15th amendment was passed in 1896, and granted African American men the right to vote, there have been many barriers put in place to prevent them from voting, including grandfather clauses and Jim Crow laws. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law, and since then, there have been several positive amendments to this law, thus allowing African Americans to more easily register to vote and participate in elections. Although this country has come a long way in giving different groups of people access to voting, there are still restrictions and barriers to voting that specifically target Black people. For white Americans in this country, voting on election day is a simple and easy task that most do not give a second thought. But when you submitted your ballot, did you consider the American people that could not vote on November 8th?

Within the past couple of years, more than 400 anti-voter laws have been passed in 48 states. These laws have resulted in stricter voter ID laws, which make it much more difficult for people to register to vote, or vote in person and through mail. These laws disproportionately affect minority groups within America and exclude them from participating in elections. These restrictions are direct violations of people’s rights, and it is our government’s responsibility to make voting as easily accessible as it possibly can be.

Another barrier to voting is felony disenfranchisement. When citizens are incarcerated, they face several punishments, including in some cases a loss of their right to vote. However, laws vary from state to state about whether a person that has been incarcerated and if they are allowed to vote. The variations are banning the right to vote only while incarcerated, while on probation, or there is no disenfranchisement at all. Due to the over-criminalization of communities of color, this directly affects these individuals and thus elections poorly reflect the voices of these individuals. In most instances, an individual's right to vote should never be stripped away, and states should not have laws about this issue that differ from one another.

To continue, another barrier that contributes to voter suppression is unnecessary strict voter ID laws. Due to these strict requirements and laws in certain states, about 11% of eligible voters cannot participate in elections because they do not have the proper ID to do so. Although having the proper voter ID may seem like a simple task, many people struggle to complete these tasks because the documentation that is necessary to obtain this ID is either difficult or even expensive to obtain. There are also ten states, Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, and Wisconsin, that require photo voter identification. Although these ID’s are free, they are not that easily accessible for some citizens. In the ten states that have these strict requirements, 1.2 million eligible black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic voters live more than 10 miles from their nearest ID-issuing office. In addition to this, More than 1 million eligible voters in these states fall below the federal poverty line, so driving to these offices is not an option for a large number of citizens living in these areas. Overall, by having more strict voter ID laws, it disproportionately affects specific groups including minorities, low-income citizens, and people with disabilities.

This country needs to stop creating barriers that prevent certain groups of people from registering to vote and participating in our democracy. By having these laws in place we do not get an accurate representation in elections, and by making voting more easy and accessible we as a country will have the votes to reflect the true voice of all Americans. The federal and state governments are responsible for changing these discriminatory laws that indirectly target specific groups of Americans. But as a citizen in America, I feel as though it is my responsibility to call out these injustices and spread more awareness about this issue in order to fight for fair laws. The ability to vote should never be seen as a privilege in this democracy, but it should be seen as a right that everyone has.


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