The Fine Art of Voter Suppression

Racism knows no political party. In a country founded on & still supporting White supremacy in culture & policy, holding white supremacist ideas is endemic & pretty much unavoidable. You could argue that Republicans have demonstrated more overt racism, and a Rep candidate is less likely to lose support over some blatantly racist shit than a Democrat (whether Blackface in med school is blatantly racist shit is a matter of opinion. Still, as a general rule…). But there’s stuff and there’s facts and here are some facts.

#1 The modern Republican party was founded on explicitly racist ideologies and policies, specifically racist voter suppression. That’s what The Southern Strategy was, in case you didn’t learn that in US History. I certainly didn’t, and I went to pretty good, academically recognized schools in the big city North. But specifically voter suppression? Really? Well, yes, because Votes change policy, both directly and indirectly. So whether your racism as a Southern Dem took the form of live apart and let live segregationist, Klansman, or I’m fine living with Black folks so long as they don’t threaten my status & wealth (still going strong today) preventing Black folks from voting was the key to all of it – or was left the one remaining key once everything else (Jim Crow laws) was off the table because of voting and the influence of violent, racist, nationally publicized attacks on voters, and prospective voters.

So again, Yes, as annoyed as I get at folks who write off non-voters they don’t know as unengaged or lazy, non-voters who may be working every day to help their community, while the accusers do nothing but vote; and as unpalatable as our candidates may be, especially on the national level; and as inequitable as redistricting has made votes in countless districts around the country; and as much as money influences politics: votes matter. As a politician or party, you have 2 choices: convince more people that you are the better candidate, or eliminate those who disagree. Republicans have opted for the latter.

The Southern Strategy. Right. In the 1960s, when prominent figures in the Democratic party started talking about illegal voter suppression and unequal segregation in the South (with rising from the voters who put them in office, voters whose minds had been expanded by drugs, brought together by a terrible, sneaky war that started tearing down faith in government, and awakened to racial injustice by bus boycotts and other acts of resistance), Southern Democrats freaked out. Elected officials could find no path to a racist compromise as did when they negotiated on the exclusion of the, at that time, predominantly Black jobs of farm workers and domestic workers from minimum wage, overtime pay, etc. before they would support the National Labor Relations Act of 1935 (and which has nicely transitioned to excluding largely Latino immigrants from the same minimal protections). With no way to block the looming horror of human rights for Southern Black folks, Southern Democrats left their party in droves.

They Left Their Party! The party of Secession! The party of the (White) South! And left it for the party of fuckin’ Lincoln! Just because of the Black Vote! They hadn’t even abandoned the flag of the war they lost 100 years earlier, but they were willing to abandon their political party over universal adult suffrage. Do you know how much people identify with their political party in the US? It’s hard to ignore. When Republicans are horrified by everything Trump, the clear party leader, does, but still call themselves Republican, that’s an example. When Democrats fully support everything a third party stands for, but still vote Democrat, that’s another. What would it take for you to abandon your political party?

But Southern (White) Democrats switched – permanently – to Republican in opposition (and the hopes of rescinding) the right for Black people to vote. That’s the foundation of today’s Republican party. That’s how much voting rights matter. And that’s fact #1.

Fact #2

Republicans today actively work to restrict Voting rights; specifically the voting rights of Black people. Not because they’re necessarily any more racist than Democrats, but because Black voters overwhelmingly vote Democrat. I would like to believe that even if African-Americans voted Republican, Democrats would still be pro-vote, but we don’t have a modern example to prove that. What we do have multiple examples of, from the most recent ex-President, Lindsay Graham, and others who are somehow not ashamed to say it publicly, are factual admissions that the more people vote, the less likely Republicans are to win national elections. Not true on every level, since small-population, overwhelmingly White states get as much Senate representation as large, multi-racial states, leading us to a 50-50 Senate where Democrats represent 56% of the population, not 50%. But that’s a subject for a statistical blog, which this is not. It’s not a new revelation, either. Back in 2012, anticipating the defeat of Romney, Lindsey Graham ominously predicted, “The demographics race we’re losing badly. We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term.” Ominous because it set the stage for Republican policy to this day: make White people angrier, and minimize the non-Angry White Guy vote. The next year, the Supreme Court nullified the pre-clearance clause of the Voting Rights act, and within hours Republican-led states around the country started passing laws to restrict voting rights and improve their advantage. They supplemented with fear and lies to mobilize white anger – Trump took that to the next level.

Why is this strategy effective? Why do more votes mean less Republican votes? Because the people whose votes are less reliable and more expungable are more likely to be Black voters:either because of laws that directly block them from voting, policies that make voting more difficult, or, let’s not forget, the fact that their votes have not eliminated systemic racism, racialized incarceration, or racialized poverty 55 years after the passage of the Voting Rights Act, which makes the effort a bit less appealing for some.

Republicans have certainly contributed to the voting apathy of the latter group, but Democrats have done their part as well, and our various political parties worked together for hundreds of years to disenfranchise or disfranchise (apparently both are now acceptable)[i] or let’s just say Fuck over Black people to protect their own interests, status, and wealth. But Republicans can best use the ways African-Americans and other marginalized groups have been fucked over to exclude them. For example:

  • Black people are far more likely to be convicted than Whites for the same crime, so
    • Don’t let incarcerated folks or former felons vote
      • See: Florida overturning the vote of the people and insisting on payment of fees (often inscrutable and/or impossible to discover) before regaining their rights
  • Housing projects, redlining, racism in lending have kept many Black people in dense, urban neighborhoods
    • Set up voting locations with a disproportionately high ratio of booths:population in predominantly African-American residential areas
      • See: videos of hours-long lines in Atlanta in 2016
  • Run unethical, unconsented medical tests on African-American subjects, treat their medical complaints with distrust, assume they don’t feel pain like White people do, make unhealthful food cheaper than nutritious food; perpetuate actions that create racism-related physical and mental symptoms (high blood pressure, depression, PTSD)
    • COVID hits Black people many times harder than Whites, making going to the polls less likely and more dangerous
      • So: Attack vote by mail as unreliable, fraudulent, and even illegal, which was not under discussion when older White folks were the most common utilizers
  • Invest less in predominantly Black communities and schools; pay Black people less for the same work; recruit in predominantly White communities; bar the racially profiled former felons from school loans, housing vouchers, food stamps; gentrify urban communities with reliable public transportation and nearby work so Black folks have to live farther, travel longer; add the still very real impacts of the items above leading to a lack of wealth and savings; all leading to the current state where African-Americans (and many other POC) are more likely to work multiple jobs, travel long distances to work, not own a car, not have PTO or flexible schedules, etc. etc. etc = Poverty
    • Descry, ban, or make voting by mail as difficult as possible
      • in Oklahoma you had to have it notarized, in person, during COVID
    • Make early voting brief and restrictive, if you have it at all
    • Don’t make election day a federal holiday
    • Eliminate weekend voting, especially Sundays, when Black voters are most likely to vote
  • Racially profile
    • Naturalized Latinx citizens may avoid official government agencies, and even polling locations for fear or harassment or targeting of their family
  • Steal the land of Native Americans, then allot housing on rural, resource-poor reservations
    • Outlaw vote collection from neighbors and community organizations
    • Limit or avoid ballot drop boxes in those areas
    • Require voter IDs with printed street addresses, which Reservations often don’t have
      • North Dakota
  • Actively work to enslave, disfranchise, impoverish, experiment on BIPOC
    • Distrust in government can precipitate lower voter turnout
    • Liberally purge voter rolls, then make the process to get re-listed complicated and inconvenient

A lot of these policies fuck over Republican and White voters too, particularly poor and old voters, and transient college students. When they can, states will find very creative ways to create a back door for those folks. I think my favorite of these was passing a voter ID law in Texas, but allowing identification with a Hunting license (predominantly White) but not Student IDs (predominantly Democratic voters). Carving out that line can be too difficult, however, so they’ll indiscriminately exclude all poor people, old people, sick or disabled people and students if they have to, as long as the total excluded is predominantly Democratic. The targeting of Black voters in particular is just an easier way to target Democrats.

See, it’s not about race.

Systemic racism is always a means to an end. An end that is, among other things, full-on racist in policy, but only to protect their interests. It’s not because they don’t like Black people. That’s all that matters, right? (see The Wrong Question)

One Person, No Vote is Carol Anderson’s excellent book about (mostly) recent efforts to keep people from voting, so if you want more examples, please pick that up. It’s a quick read. But just a few more points. The removal of pre-clearance from the Voting Rights Act means states can pass a restrictive, even clearly racist law, shortly before an election; have that law challenged in court by the ACLU or some such; lose; and file an appeal, taking enough time that the election has to happen with the law in place, even if the results are clearly influenced by the new restrictions. If the law is found to be racist after the fact, the person elected under that law isn’t removed from office. Mission Accomplished.

Republicans are also claiming this as a matter of state’s rights, even though the Voting Rights Act, the 15th Amendment, and other laws would seem to say otherwise. But a group of Texas Republicans also, you may remember, sued the states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Michigan & Georgia because they didn’t like the way those states ran their own elections. Those folks didn’t care about state’s rights; they only cared about winning – Trump winning.

It looks unlikely that SR1 will pass, or will pass with real Voter protections, protections in large part removed by the cancellation of section 2 of the VRA in  . And that means the states will continue to go hog wild on restricting access to the polls. If you’re on the fence about this, here’s what you need to ask yourself.

Do I believe in democracy? Do I believe in one person, one vote? Do I believe election results should be decided by the majority of voters? If your answer to the above is yes, you are not a modern Republican. This is not what they believe and not what they want. They want rule by White, rich, university educated (preferably private), not far from the White, male, landowner restrictions of our “founding fathers.” If you’re a true originalist, they are the party for you. If not, they are putting most of their legislative energy into keeping more and more people from voting.


Hey y’all. I started this last week and it will go on forever if I let it. I’m so tired of this bullshit, I’m beyond flabbergasted that this kind of voter suppression is allowed in our country, I’m disgusted that a Voting Rights bill has a iceberg’s chance in hell of passing through our supposedly democratically elected Congress, and there are books that can dig into this better than I. I couldn’t not write about it, but now I can’t keep writing about it. Forgive me, and have a lovely week.

[i] Word nerd alert!

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