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Challenge the Challenge to the Right to Vote

Posted by T. Resnikoff // January 23rd 2014 // 30 Days of Love // no comments

DAY 6: Dismantling the “New Poll Tax”


End Voter Suppression

30DoL_6_Got_Id-When Poll Taxes were ruled unconstitutional in 1964 many thought that the 5th Principle of Unitarian Universalism, “The right of conscience and the use of the democratic process within our congregations and in society at large” was achieved for all citizens. Sadly, if that was the case, it is no longer. Opponents of universal suffrage have worked hard to restrict the right to vote in this country, and 50-years on voter suppression disenfranchises many of the people who won the right to vote in 1964, and many others when they will come of age to vote.


The goal of voter suppression is, of course, to limit the influence of minorities, the poor and the young on electoral results and social policy. An op-ed on the Huffington Post states, “Each tactic disproportionately burdens the same voters: youth, students, African Americans, Asian Americans, Latinos, seniors, low-income voters, and Americans with disabilities. Voter-suppression efforts, like newly enacted photo-ID laws, will also have a disproportionately harmful impact on those who are transgender.”(1)  Yet as a group minorities are rapidly becoming a majority of voting-age citizens. The minority population of under 5-year olds is already at parity with whites, most children under 1 are minorities, and whites will become a minority in the United States by 2043. Suppressing the vote of any minority – racial, disabled, transgendered or other suppresses difference, tolerance, an inclusive society and, finally, love.

Although flawed in execution throughout its history, the intent of American democracy was majority rule and the will of the people expressed through elections. (Read the history of voting rights in the United States  in Waymon Hudson‘s Huffington Post editorial.) From The Independence Hall Association (IHA) website, “Thomas Jefferson’s most fundamental political belief was an ‘absolute acquiescence in the decisions of the majority.’… Jefferson believed that the will of the people, expressed through elections, provided the most appropriate guidance for directing the republic’s course. Voter suppression subverts the intent of American democracy by creating an artificial majority of voters that does not represent the will of the true majority in the United States.


Here are some of the ways voter’s rights are suppressed –

Voter ID laws

Voter identification laws exist ostensibly to reduce voter fraud, however they disenfranchise voters who are unable to meet stringent proof-of-identification requirements. From the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) report, Fighting Voter Suppression:

During the 2011 legislative sessions, states across the country passed measures to make it harder for Americans – particularly African-Americans, the elderly, students and people with disabilities – to exercise their fundamental right to cast a ballot. Over thirty states considered laws that would require voters to present government-issued photo ID in order to vote. Studies suggest that up to 11 percent of American citizens lack such ID, and would be required to navigate the administrative burdens to obtain it or forego the right to vote entirely.

Read this story on how Voter ID laws disenfranchise women.

Read this story on how Voter ID laws disenfranchise young people, the poor and minorities.

Mass Incarceration

As a tool of voter suppression, the policy of Mass Incarceration in conjunction with the War on Drugs of the past 30 years has been very effective. Today, as noted by Adam Gopnik in his editorial in the New Yorker magazine, “More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives.” This terrible statistic masks another: Across the country, 13 percent of African-American men have lost their right to vote, which is seven times the national average. (From the Brennan Center for Justice.)

Read this story on how having a criminal record can disenfranchise someone for life.

12 Voter Suppression Tactics

The Supreme Court June 2012 ruling on the Voting Rights Act makes possible the following 12 methods of voter suppression (read the Atlantic Cities magazine article from which this list is drawn):

1. Changing polling locations. An election official can make this call just days before an election.

2. Changing polling hours or eliminating early voting days. This may be particularly problematic in urban counties where long polling lines are most likely, as Henry Grabar reported last fall.

3. Reducing the number of polling places. This raises the same problem as above, particularly when the eliminated polling places had disproportionately served minority communities.

4. At-large elections. At-large elections for school-board members or city councils often dilute the voting power of minorities who have greater influence in single-candidate district elections. In an at-large election, a cohesive voting block with 51 percent of the vote can elect 100 percent of the officials.

5. Packing majority-minority districts. Election maps drawn to push all of a community’s minorities in one or a handful of districts can dilute their voting power.

6. Dividing minority districts. Similarly, election maps can slice minority communities into multiple districts so that they have no cumulative influence in any one place. The line between these two tactics is a fine one (and also illustrates why the VRA was useful for assessing facts on the ground).

7. Voter ID laws: This increasingly popular tactic, sometimes likened to a modern-day poll tax, has the potential to disenfranchise voters who don’t have a driver’s license, or who don’t have the money or ability to obtain one (a disproportionate share of these people are minorities). Such laws can also have a disproportionate impact in cities, where many people don’t own cars.

8. Onerous candidate qualifications. In 2007, a Texas provision tried to limit those people eligible to become water district supervisors to landowners who were registered to vote.

9. Changing multi-lingual voter assistance. Making it harder for non-English language speakers to vote is a good way to dilute their power.

10. Changing election dates. Another trick that may not require legislative approval.

11. Creating new elections. In 2006, the DOJ objected to a plan in the Houston area that would have eliminated some joint elections and required voters to travel to multiple polling places.

12. Canceling elections. We’re not even really sure how Kilmichael, Mississippi, thought they could get away with this.


Unitarian Universalists join with others rejecting the notion that a person’s right to voice their opinion or beliefs in the form of a ballot be suppressed, and so we resist these ways of keeping the vote from our brethren. Visit Standing on the Side of Love today  and learn how you can make a difference.


About the Author

Ted Resnikoff is the Digital Communications Editor at the Unitarian Universalist Association.
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