Tatum Menom: Voter suppression efforts

The following is the speech, including notes, presented by Tatum Menom at today’s voting rights teach-in in Grand Junction.

Voter Suppression Efforts

  1. What is voter supression? 
    1. Voter Suppression is a strategy used to influence the outcome of an election by discouraging or preventing specific groups of people from voting. 
      1. Voter Suppression efforts have disenfranchised People of Color for far too long: 
        1. Firstly, Alabama Literacy Test in 1965: 
          1. In part “A” of the literacy Test you are given a section of the Alabama Constitution to read aloud. The sections are taken from a big loose-leaf binder. Some are easier than others. If white applicants are given the test at all, they generally get the easy ones. The registrar makes sure that Black applicants get the hardest ones — the ones filled with convoluted long sentences.
        2. Secondly, Poll Taxes
          1. Exactly like the name sounds. A tax that used to be common across the entire U.S. it was eventually used in the mid 20th century in the south to keep Blacks, poor white people, and immigrants from voting because white they could usually afford the annual tax that ranged from 1-5 dollars, they often couldn’t keep up the additional taxes that were implemented by counties, but enforced by police (which goes into police intimidation as well). 
        3. Police intimidation
          1. The various state, county, local police forces — as white of course — routinely intimidated and harassed Blacks who tried to register. They arrested would-be voters on false charges and beat other imagined transgressions, and often this kind of retribution was directed not only at the man or woman who dared try to register, but against family members as well, even the children 
    2. Unfortunately, we still see these efforts:
      1. Voter Identification Laws 
        1. Voter Identification laws 
          1. Thirty-six have identification requirements at the polls and seven states have strict photo ID laws under which voters must present one of a limited set of forms of government-issued photo ID in order to cast a regular ballot – no exceptions. Colorado is not one. These strict ID laws are part of an ongoing strategy to suppress the vote, and it works. Voter ID laws have been estimated by the U.S. Government Accountability Office to reduce voter turnout by 2-3 percentage points, translating to tens of thousands of votes lost in a single state.
          2. Over 21 million U.S. citizens do not have government-issued photo identification. That’s because ID cards aren’t always accessible for everyone. The ID itself can be costly, and even when IDs are free, applicants must incur other expenses to obtain the underlying documents that are needed to get an ID. This can be a significant burden on people in lower-income communities. Further, the travel required is an obstacle for people with disabilities, the elderly, and people living in rural areas.
          3. Some states restrict registration by allowing people to register long in advance of an election. For example, New York requires voters to register at least 25 days before the election, which imposes an unnecessary burden on the right to vote. By forcing voters to register before the election even becomes salient to the public, it discourages people from registering in the first place. These outdated restrictions — which were designed for a time when registration forms were exclusively completed with pen and paper, and transmitted via snail mail — can significantly impact voter participation. In the 2016 presidential election, over 90,000 New Yorkers were unable to vote because their applications did not meet the 25-day cutoff, and the state had the eighth-worst turnout rate in the country.
    3. Voter Purges 
    1. Voter purges have increased in recent years. A recent Brennan Center study found that almost 16 million voters were purged from the rolls between 2014 and 2016, and that jurisdictions with a history of racial discrimination — which are no longer subject to pre-clearance after the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act — had significantly higher purge rates.
    2. The most common excuses for purging voter rolls are to filter out voters who have changed their address, died, or have failed to vote in recent elections. States often conduct such purges using inaccurate data, booting voters who don’t even fall under the targeted category. In 2016, Arkansas purged thousands of voters for so-called felony convictions, even though some of the voters had never been convicted of a felony at all. And in 2013, Virginia purged 39,000 voters based on data that was later found to have an error rate of up to 17 percent.
  2. Gerrymandering
    1. Every 10 years, states redraw district lines based on population data gathered in the census. Legislators use these district lines to allocate representation in Congress and state legislatures. When redistricting is conducted properly, district lines are redrawn to reflect population changes and racial diversity. But too often, states use redistricting as a political tool to manipulate the outcome of elections. That’s called gerrymandering — a widespread, undemocratic practice that’s stifling the voice of millions of voters.
      1. Redistricting is front and center in 2020. In April, the Trump administration will conduct the 2020 census and states will use its results to redraw district lines across the country. Those new district lines will determine our political voice for the next decade.
    2. Felony Disenfranchisement 
      1. A felony conviction can come with drastic consequences including the loss of your right to vote. But different states have different laws. Some ban voting only during incarceration. Some ban voting for life. Some ban people while on probation or parole; other ban people from voting only while incarcerated. And some states, like Maine and Vermont, don’t disenfranchise people with felony convictions at all. The fact that these laws vary so dramatically only adds to the overall confusion that voters face, which is a form of voter suppression in itself.
      2. Due to racial bias in the criminal justice system, felony disenfranchisement laws disproportionately affect Black people, who often face harsher sentences than white people for the same offenses. It should come as no surprise that many of these laws are rooted in the Jim Crow era, when legislators tried to block Black Americans’ newly won right to vote by enforcing poll taxes, literacy tests, and other barriers that were nearly impossible to meet. 
      3. To this day, the states with the most extreme disenfranchisement laws also have long records of suppressing the rights of Black people. In Iowa, a system of permanent disenfranchisement, paired with the most disproportionate incarceration rate of Black people in the nation, has resulted in the disenfranchisement of an estimated one in four voting-age black men.
      4. In Colorado, Only people in prison cannot vote
  3. How to protect individuals rights to vote
    1. The right to vote is the most fundamental constitutional right for good reason — democracy cannot exist without the electoral participation of citizens. We vote because it’s we, the people, who are supposed to shape our government. Not the other way around.
    2. States can enact measures to encourage rather than suppress voting. Automatic, online, and same-day voter registration encourage participation and reduce chances of error. Early voting helps people with travel or accessibility concerns participate. And states must enforce the protections of the Voting Rights Act.

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