*Racism still exists, and it can be seen in voter laws (and in other institutions)
Discrimination and oppression of minority voters in the 21st century continues to be a problem; regardless if it is done legally or illegally. There are many systematic methods and tactics which discriminate against or suppress the vote of marginalized groups in the United States. Methods such as gerrymandering, voter ID laws, and felon label are just a few institutionalized examples of racism used in order to suppress the minority vote.
Gerrymandering is done legally by political party officials, where electoral constituencies are manipulated in order to favor a particular class or party over another. While some could argue that this is only executed so there will be a predominance of representatives over an objectively unfavorable party, research has suggested that this is a loophole used in order to suppress people of color. Gerrymandering ensures that supporters do not translate into representation and is used almost exclusively as a form of vote dilution.
Roughly 300,000 eligible voters lack voter ID in the United States, and with stricter voter ID laws, this resulted in remarkably low voter turnout during the 2016 election process.
There are many anecdotes highlighting this injustice, including a 99-year-old man—who made two trips to the polls and one to the DMV on Election Day just to be able to vote, while others decided not to vote at all because they were denied IDs. In response to this injustice, US District Judge James Peterson ruled that the voter ID laws, along with the DMV’s incapability to provide required ID, was “unconstitutional” and “pretty much a disaster.”
This judge also explained that “it disenfranchised about 100 qualified electors—the vast majority of whom were people of color—who should have been given IDs to vote in the April 2016 primary.” Many officials have agreed that voter ID laws disproportionately affect the poor, elderly, and people of color. These groups are more likely to move more frequently and take advantage of early voting, both of which are restricted through voter ID laws.
While some may argue that strict voter ID laws prevent voter fraud, it is clear that these laws are put into place in order to discriminate against people of color and do very little to prevent fraud, due to the lack of voter fraud to begin with. Texas’s 23rd Congressional District found that 12.8 percent of registered voters who didn’t vote in the election cited lack of required photo ID as a reason they didn’t cast a ballot, while only 2.7 percent of registered voters actually lacked an acceptable ID. It is obvious that something deeper is being accomplished through these discriminatory laws.
The “drug war” in the United States directly targeted minority groups in the 1980s, which resulted in many people (majorly people of color) being labeled as a felon due to a non-violent, often unjust, drug related crime. Now, states such as Iowa, Kentucky, and Virginia, do not restore voting rights to citizens who have completed their sentences, which in turn disenfranchises the vote from millions of people of color.
More Black adults are under correctional control today-in prison or jail, on probation or parole-than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. This resulted in more black men being disenfranchised in 2007 than in 1870, the year the Fifteenth Amendment was ratified prohibiting laws that explicitly deny the right to vote on the basis of race. Today, felon disenfranchisement laws accomplish what poll taxes and literacy tests ultimately could not. Overall, one in every 13 Black American has lost their right to vote on account of felon disenfranchisement.
In the 2000 presidential election in Florida, where many minorities were disenfranchised due to a faulty system of labeling felons thus restricting them from voting. This felon-disenfranchisement law dated back to 1868, when the state banned anyone with a felony conviction from voting unless the governor issued a pardon, which targeted newly emancipated Blacks who were more likely to be arrested than Whites due to the laws put in place after the abolition of slavery.
The state abandoned the plan after news media investigations revealed that the 2004 list of “felons” also included thousands of people who were eligible to vote, and heavily targeted Blacks while virtually ignoring Latinx voters. However, even in 2018, this radically discriminatory law is still in place in many states.
In November 2018, Florida voters voted “yes” on Amendment 4 which would restore the voting rights for more than one million former felons. Although in March, Republicans on Florida’s House Criminal Justice Committee introduced a bill that would restrict the amendment. As The Root reported, “The bill requires former felons to not only complete their sentences, but to also have met all ‘financial obligations’ related to their sentence, including any court fines, fees or civil judgments before their voting rights can be restored.”
Tampa Bay Times reported that the goal of the House bill is to potentially keep hundreds of thousands of former felons from voting. The Senate proposed a milder bill, allowing former felons to vote while paying off their fines and fees. Both Republican leaders in each chamber are committed to passing a bill this session, whether it will be the less restrictive Senate bill is still up for debate.
Call your representatives and urge them to not back any bill that upholds racist voter laws.