Voter suppression could change the course of the 2020 election
By Lila Cohen, Reporter
Voter suppression is guaranteed to be present in this coming election season. So what is it?
“Voter suppression is a large scale collection of various tactics to disincentivize people from participating in the political process.” said Dr. Lawrence Cushnie, professor of political science at South Seattle College.
Voter suppression includes everything from legislation and policies intended to hurt voter turnout in certain communities, to disinformation campaigns, gerrymandering, and the physical act of removing ballot boxes.
Graphic by Marina-Rae Gill
Misinformation and disinformation (the difference being that disinformation is intentionally inaccurate) is one of the most common and harmful voter suppression tactics.
“There's been extensive research and evidence of international entities becoming involved in disinformation campaigns in American elections,” Cushnie said, “as well as homegrown groups who have a political axe to grind, who try to spread as far and wide as they can, misinformation about the election.”
The results of a study conducted by researchers Richard Gunther, Paul A. Beck, and Erik C. Nisbet, from Ohio State University clearly showed how misinformation can harm the legitimacy of an election.
“Fake news most likely did have a substantial impact on the voting decisions of a strategically important set of voters—those who voted for Barack Obama in 2012.” the study reported. “Indeed, given the very narrow margins of victory by Donald Trump in key battleground states, this impact may have been sufficient to deprive Hillary Clinton of victory in the Electoral College.”
Voter ID laws are another tactic worth mentioning that are used to suppress groups of voters. These laws require voters to show some form of government-issued photo identification before voting, the idea being it will prevent voter fraud. However, voter ID laws disproportionately affect BIPOC, immigrants, the elderly, and low-income communities who might not have the time or money to acquire the necessary identification. It should be noted that these groups of voters tend to vote democratically.
Graphic by Marina-Rae Gill
“A 2014 GAO (Government Accountability Office) study found that strict photo ID laws reduce turnout by two to three percentage points, which can translate into tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state,” the ACLU stated on their voter ID fact sheet, further emphasizing how voter ID laws can drastically hurt elections.
The Americans most affected by voter suppression are those who are also disadvantaged in other social and economic circumstances. Those who live at or below the poverty line, young people, immigrants, and people of color.
“We can't forget that as recently as the 1950s, almost 70 percent of African-Americans who were eligible [and] could register to vote, based on every federal law, were simply physically constrained from being able to do so.” Cushnie said. “That has long term consequences.”
As for combating voter suppression?
“It would take such small changes to completely reconfigure the ways in which we engage in the political process,” Cushnie said. “As a developed democracy with such a low voter turnout, why wouldn’t we change it to make it easier to vote? Instead what we've seen are states passing things like voter ID laws which are disenfranchising hundreds of thousands people.”
The legislative, judicial and executive branches at both the federal and state level have a duty to our country to fight voter suppression in order to preserve this democracy. Arguably the biggest role lies at the federal level.
“[The] place [that] can fix this is Congress, policymakers can simply pass laws saying, `here's a [crazy] idea. Why don't we make voting day a national holiday?” Cushnie said. “It's pretty close to when Veterans Day is… bada bing bada boom. Another [thing we can do is make] mail-in voting [available] for everybody everywhere… [and] automatically register everybody the day they turn 18.”
The fact is voter suppression is a valid reason to worry for the legitimacy of this presidential election and all the more reason that anyone who can vote should.
“[Voter suppression❳ is by far the most likely candidate for upsetting a free and fair election,” Cushnie said.