The right to vote is one of the most fundamental civil liberties in the world, and has been one of the most fought-for civil rights ever. In 1920, with the passing of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, every adult citizen of the United States theoretically had the right to vote, regardless of color or sex.
However, also with the 19th Amendment, came a new civil rights issue — voter suppression. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), voter suppression is defined as “a strategy to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting.”
People of color, women, disabled people and the elderly are the most common victims of voter suppression.
The Voting Rights Act, signed by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965, was passed in hopes of ending voter suppression. Before 1965, and despite the Constitution promising every adult U.S citizen the right to vote, many states were still suppressing voters.
For example, before 1965, many states gave literacy tests at polls, claiming that if voters were illiterate, they couldn’t possibly understand the issues they were voting on. Because of the discrimination people of color had received since the founding of the United States, many African-Americans of voting age at this period in time were illiterate.
Another example of pre-1965 voter suppression was poll taxes, meaning states were essentially charging money to vote. This, again, was a voter suppression tactic, as most people of color had very low-paying jobs and couldn’t afford to pay these taxes.
These two are only a few of many suppression tactics used before 1965.
Fortunately, with the passing of the Voting Rights Act, states could no longer legally impose these tests, taxes, etc., that favored rich, white men. However, now, over 50 years after the Voting Rights Act was passed, voter suppression is still very real but can be a lot harder to identify.
Voter ID laws are the worst offender in modern-day voter suppression. Voter ID laws vary from state to state, and they determine how much, if any, state ID is required to vote.
In Utah, for example, voters must present valid state picture or non-picture ID, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) website. Some states, like California, don’t require any form of ID to vote, and some states, like Georgia, have very strict voter ID laws that require specific forms of photo ID.
There are a lot more people than you may imagine who either have no need to or can’t obtain valid state ID. It’s about 10 percent of the United States, which is almost 25 million people, according to Time magazine. That 10 percent is very disproportionately comprised of black people, Latinos and college students, all three of which are more likely to vote Democratic.
The fear of “voter fraud,” a term invoked by Donald Trump in his presidential campaign in 2016, meaning any sort of illegal interference with an election, is what is keeping these discriminatory voter ID laws around. In reality, according to the Brennan Center for Justice, the likelihood of “voter fraud” occurring is around 0.0025 percent. Despite this number being so low, the fear of election interference is a scary thought for all parties.
A solution that would suit both those who fear “voter fraud” and the people against voter ID laws would require both federal and state governments to be more proactive. Some examples, as presented by Time magazine, would be the federal government issuing free IDs to every citizen when they turned 18, and state governments eliminating fees associated with obtaining state ID, allowing post-offices (which are located in even the smallest towns) to process state ID requests, etc.
Voting rights should be continuously fought for, and they are not something to compromise on. Throughout this country’s history, minorities have worked tirelessly to be able to vote and have a say in their government officials. Ending voter suppression begins with discussing it and trying to understand it.
Laney Baumann is a recent graduate of Utah Connections Academy. She loves reading, writing and music. Email her at email@example.com.