Beginning in 2011, a new wave of voter suppression laws in states like Mississippi and North Carolina began to pass, reversing the progress that many died for just 45 years prior. In 2013, a landmark Supreme Court decision in Shelby v. Holder made it legal for states to once again suppress voters based on reversing a provision that allowed the federal government to decide, based on historical racial prejudices, which states can create their own voting laws. This LEGALIZED voter discrimination in the US, yet very few people even took notice.
The justification given by the politicians that have passed these laws is that tighter restrictions on who can vote eliminates any form of voter fraud. The problem is that numerous studies have been done on voter fraud, and almost all point to the fact that voter fraud is a myth, so rare that it barely shows up in final vote totals. This being said, these politicians are generally throwing out this term to scare their constituents into voting for their legislation, and are not doing their job: to look out for the best interests of the people.
The real, untold reason why these politicians, almost always conservative, are pushing for these laws is that they fear minority votes will prevent their re-election into public office. The laws take away a lot of capabilities to send in a ballot prior to election day. Due to our country’s long history of racial and ethnic biases, the largest amount of people who are unable to vote on the real election day, due to inflexible working or school hours, is minorities, such as African Americans and Hispanic Americans, as well as old people and the young, who are still in high school or college. Almost all these groups vote liberal in elections, generally Democratic, causing fear and panic in the minds of those who sit on the other side of the aisle. When the idea of voter fraud sprang into discussion, these feared politicians took it and ran.
Many movements sprung from this, including the Moral Monday rallies in North Carolina, led by Reverend William Barber. More important to American democracy was the Democracy Awakening Movement. From April 16 to 18, many leaders of different communities, from a pastor that has a church in Flint, Michigan, to the President of the NAACP, to an actress/singer from many movies, including Dumb and Dumber To, this multifaceted movement took a stance on voter suppression laws, just mere steps in front of the US Capitol. The weekend started with a rally and other protest-esque events and ended on Monday with a civil disobedience gathering that led to hundreds of arrests, among which included Reverend Barber.
I was fortunate enough to attend the Sunday portion of the gathering, hearing many inspirational people speak to the crowd that had decided to take a stand against injustice. After the President of the NAACP, Reverend Cornell William Brooks, finished speaking, talked to the group I was with for over 25 minutes, telling us of the importance of standing up for everyone’s voting rights.
The nation was built on the idea of “we the people”, yet some people are currently being disenfranchised from American democracy. We need to stand up not just for what is morally right, but also stand up for what it means to be American.
What will you do to help end voter suppression in America in the 21st century? Where will you be when democracy, finally, awakens?