- Lily Meckel
Voter suppression in the USA: what they don’t tell you about American democracy
By LILY MECKEL
Early voting has begun in several states around the USA for the most significant elections in US history taking place on 3rd November this year. The voting process has been particularly politicised this year due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, which has increased the need for mail-in voting and early in-person voting to protect people against the virus on election day. Incumbent President Donald Trump has described the increase in mail-in voting as a “tremendous fraud” and tried to undercut the process meant to protect American voters. Images of long queues at early in-person polling stations have flocked the internet and caused a frenzy, with the BBC reporting people’s reactions around the world. One man from Britain commented “Dear USA, I’m 58 and not once in my life have I had to queue to vote. Sort it out!”. Waiting 11 hours in line to vote may seem like a deterrent to voting, but that is not the only way in which the country claiming to be the world’s preserver of democracy suppresses its voters. Election day on Tuesday, the voter registration process, gerrymandering and cuts to the postal service all lead to the question: Is the USA really the democracy it claims to be?
Let’s start with the first obstacle towards voting: voter registration. In many democracies around the world, such as Sweden and Germany, voter registration is automatic whereas in the US, it is not. This poses many difficulties. Firstly, not all states allow online registration, which means people have to do it in person. This requires people to travel extensively to reach a government facility to register, which is made more difficult by transportation disparities. Public transport is poor in most places in the US and not everyone has a car to travel these distances. Thus, registering becomes too much of a hassle for some. Secondly, some states require documentation to be able to register that not everyone has, for example a driver’s licence. Thirdly, in some states convicted felons cannot vote. This disproportionally affects people of colour, particularly African Americans who are arguably unfairly targeted by the criminal justice system. Fourth, the rules on registration are different in every state, so if you move to another state you have to register all over again. These are only few of the many difficulties of registering to vote, which is reflected in the fact that only 56% of the voting age population voted in 2016, according to the Pew Research Center.
Gerrymandering is another aspect of the voting system that suppresses certain demographics by giving one party an unfair advantage in elections. States elect officials to the House of Representatives. Depending on how large the population is, the state gets a certain number of representatives and the state is divided into that number of districts. For example, if a state has five representatives, the state is divided into five congressional districts who all have the same proportion of citizens. These then each elect one representative. Districts are redrawn every ten years and are often manipulated to ensure a certain election outcome. Republican gerrymandering has led to packing minorities into one district, to minimise their influence and give them less representation. This is called racial gerrymandering and ultimately suppresses certain groups of people from having their voices heard.
Cuts to the postal service to prevent mail-in voting have been a particularly relevant example of voter suppression in the 2020 elections. Due to the pandemic, the need for mail-in voting has greatly increased, which Trump has called a fraud. In June of 2020 Trump appointed a new postmaster general Louis DeJoy, an avid Republican donor, to further Trump’s agenda of restricting mail-in voting. In his first weeks, DeJoy cut funds which slowed down the postal service, creating fears among Democrats that mail-in ballots would not be counted because they would be late. Whilst the courts upheld any further changes to services, some Republican states such as Texas have contributed to making mail-in voting difficult by only providing one ballot drop box per county.
The examples mentioned above are only a few ways in which the system is flawed. Strict voting ID laws, the electoral college and many more aspects of the US system suppress the American people from voting. Whilst this system isn’t newly suppressive, the Trump administration has exacerbated the issue in numerous ways. It is clear that for any change to happen, Joe Biden needs to win. A victory for Trump would equate to the collapse of whichever democratic principles are still considered to be in place now.
Photo by Element5 Digital on Unsplash