Voter Suppression

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The 2016 Survey of Consumer Finances illustrates in troubling detail the extent of the substantial wealth disparities between families of different racial and ethnic groups. According to the survey, White families had a median net worth of $171,000 compared to $17,600 for Black families. Between 2013 and 2016 the white-black gap in median net worth increased from $132,800 to $153,400. The issue of black-white economic inequality has been studied by sociologists, political scientists and economists for years. It has been the focus of productive research and teaching careers, media inquiries and a concern of Black families for generations.

Research suggests that increases in income and wealth inequality are related to lower labor for participation; flat median wages; inequality in education and skill attainment; trade and offshoring; deregulation; and deunioinization. But, if Americans voted based on their income and financial circumstance, rather than political party, race, gender or social issues, they could elect politicians who pass laws to increase wages, provide equal opportunities for educational advancement, increase trade and decrease offshoring, and pass meaningful and efficient regulations.

While Americans are aware of the importance of voting, 92 million eligible Americans did not vote in the 2016 presidential election . So, what is keeping American citizens from voting? The answer involves political interest and motivation, but also ability. Rosenstone (1982) suggests economic adversity increases the opportunity costs of political participation, including voting, and reduces a person’s capacity to attend to politics. Thus, a vicious circle is created. Political participation, including voting is a way for citizens, regardless of income, to communicate information about their needs, interests, preferences and generate pressure on politicians to respond.

But for citizens who experience economic adversity, the very issues that they are focused on may impede their participation in the political process that could help alleviate their problems. Racially biased voter suppression tactics including improper voter purges, early voting cutbacks, discriminatory restrictive voter identification requirements, the closing of poll locations in Black neighborhoods, restrictions on student voting, and disenfranchisement exacerbate the problem for the Black community. These tactics that make it more difficult for Black people to vote worsen the political effects of economic inequality. In the United States voting is strongly correlated with income.

According to a report by the Scholars Strategy Network citizens who vote tend to have higher incomes, and higher income earners are generally less likely to support policies that decrease income inequality. Voter suppression tactics focused on minority and lower-income voters effectively encourage elected officials to pay even more attention to the needs and policy preferences of more affluent voters .

On June 14, 2018 Reverend William Barber II gave the keynote address at the Rainbow Push Coalition and Citizenship Education Fund 47th Annual International Convention in Chicago. During his speech he talked about his movement, the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival and the fact that the states that have recently enacted voter suppression laws have also elected politicians who provide tax breaks for the wealthy while cutting insurance, public education and are against worker’s rights and LGBTQ equality.

One of the demands of Rev. Barber’s campaign is the “immediate full restoration and expansion of the Voting Rights Act….” The Voting Rights Act signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson 54 year ago on August 6, 1965 aimed to overcome legal barriers at the state and local levels that prevented African Americans from exercising their right to vote as guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution.

The act banned the use of literacy tests which had been used as a racial tactic to prevent African Americans from voting, provided for federal oversight of voter registration in areas where less than 50 percent of the non-white population had not registered to vote, and authorized the U.S. attorney general to investigate the use of poll taxes in state and local elections. When the Act was passed in 1965, there were six African Americans serving in the U.S. House of Representatives and none in the U.S. Senate. Progress has been made in increasing the diversity of the U.S. Congress since 1965.

With three African Americans serving in the Senate and 56 serving in the House of Representatives, the 116th U.S. Congress, which convened in Washington, D.C. on January 3, 2019 is the most diverse Congress ever elected. However, the issue of voting rights remains as critical as ever. The 2016 presidential election was the first in 50 years without the full protections of the Voting Rights Act. In fact, there are fewer voting rights today than there were when the Civil Rights Act and Voting Rights Act were passed .

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 35 states had laws in force requesting or requiring voters to show some form of identification at the polls in 2018 . The other 15 states used other methods to verify voter identity including the provision of identifying information at the polling place. Supporters of voter identification legislation see it as a way to decrease voter fraud.

Opponents counter that incidents of fraud are very limited. Researchers found fewer than 36 cases of fraud in more than 1 billion ballots cast in general, primary, special and municipal elections between 2000 and 2014 . Further, restrictive identification requirements put an undue burden on citizens who are attempting to exercise their legal right to vote. In 2018 seven states including Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wisconsin had strict photo id laws in force. These laws require voters without acceptable identification to vote on a provisional ballot and also take additional steps after Election Day for it to be counted.

For instance, according to the law in Mississippi, “an individual without ID can cast an affidavit ballot which will be counted if the individual returns to the appropriate circuit clerk within five days after the election and shows government-issued photo ID” . Such laws are especially burdensome for voters who are homeless and do not have a permanent address, work hourly jobs without paid leave, single-parents who have child care scheduling to contend with, students, and anyone without reliable transportation.

In his 1975 inquest into the causes of racial economic inequality Dr. William Darity explored conventional trade models, human capital theory, and dual market theory. In the end he found that what enables Whites to engage in discrimination against Blacks with adverse effects on Black income is the Black disadvantage in physical capital ownership. Based on this reasoning he concluded that if Blacks owned a comparable level of physical capital they could engage in the “segregation game” without a loss of income. Voting is one way to influence wages, the ability to form and retain unions, the availability of high-quality educational institutions, and the provision of social services, all of which affect the accumulation of wealth and physical capital. This is why the right to vote is so important and why such extensive efforts have been made to take it away.


Cite this paper

Voter Suppression. (2021, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/voter-suppression/

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