Many have hailed the 2020 Presidential Election as the most important election Americans will ever vote in, and for a variety of pressing reasons — whoever becomes the next president will need to deal with issues such as impending climate catastrophe, coronavirus-fueled economic turmoil and racial tensions (just to name a few).
Now, more than ever, there is an absolute need for Americans to vote for the policies they want to see. However, untold numbers of eligible American voters are stopped from casting their ballots every election through legal and illegal acts of voter suppression, therefore throwing the legitimacy of the entire 2020 Presidential Election into the balance.
A difficult registration process, strict voter ID laws, felony disenfranchisement, and many more problems within the voting process are all examples of suppression eligible voters face. How can an election be legitimate if not every eligible person is given the opportunity to exercise their right to vote?
The voting registration process is arduous, confusing, and oftentimes has sections that are overly unnecessary. Politicians have been known to create laws requiring proof of citizenship or identification for people to be eligible to register because of falsified reports of voter fraud. Unfortunately, most do not carry their birth certificate or passport on their person, and are therefore prevented from registering.
It actually happened in 2011 in Kansas, according to aclu.org. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach created a law requiring Kansans to procure “proof of citizenship” documents in order to register to vote, saying there had been people who were not citizens voting in prior elections. As a result, over 30,000 people were unable to register and vote.
Voter ID laws are currently upheld in 36 states. Every state has a separate set of rules for their own laws, and the residents of each state must comply every year. Of those 36, nine of the states are identified as having “strict” laws with both photo and non-photo IDs, according to ncsl.org.
Regardless of the said “strictness” of the laws, the fact that the United States does not have a cohesive plan that is the same for every state on voter ID laws is problematic.
Expectations are unequal. For example, in Mississippi, the voter ID laws only allow a government-issued photo ID to be accepted. All other forms of ID are not considered valid, even though some states only require a paycheck with an address, or even will accept verbal confirmation of birthdate and residence if no other ID was brought (this is so in Hawaii, and similar laws are in Alaska).
Felony disenfranchisement is yet another legal way for eligible voters to be prevented from voting. According to sentencingproject.org, “As of 2016, 6.1 million Americans were prohibited from voting due to laws that disenfranchise citizens convicted of felony offenses.”
There are only two states (Maine and Vermont) that do not prohibit voters on account of prior offenses, and eleven states that are so strict in their felony disenfranchisement that individuals’ voting rights are restricted “even after they have served their prison sentence and are no longer on probation or parole.” Of the aforementioned 6.1 million Americans prevented from voting, 50 percent are affected within those 11 strict states.
Each of the prior examples of voter suppression serves to exclude minority groups from voting in the election — because, truly, that is who is affected. People with low incomes, marginalized racial and ethnic groups, people with disabilities, students, the elderly, and any other group that is vulnerable in the United States’ society are pushed to the side; what they want simply does not matter.
Voter suppression is a valid reason one may question the legitimacy of the 2020 Presidential Election. However, other concerns of a completely different caliber have been raised as well. The COVID-19 pandemic has promised 2020 a year of complications with nothing standing in its way, and the election is sure to be the next victim.
One of the more substantial threats is the “rigging” of the polls. In the 2016 Presidential Election, Russia has admitted to interfering with the process to create political and social divides and boost the election campaign of President Donald Trump. Americans are especially concerned this year for the 2020 election, not only because of prior riggings, but because of the heavily-normalized mail-in ballots.
Mail-in voting has become the most popular form of voting for Americans this election due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Instead of arriving at the long poll lines in-person with the potential for infection, more than a third of voters will cast their ballots by mail, according to a study reported by yougov.com.
As stated by President Trump and many of his supporters, mail-in voting has the highest potential for “voter fraud.” According to heritage.org, there have been 1,298 proven instances of voter fraud since 1996. Mail-in ballots are the most susceptible form of voting to be forged by another person, altered by anyone whose hands it may come to, or stolen, never to arrive to election officials.
Voter suppression is not a new concept; it dates back to the beginning of the United States, and has historically targeted minority groups and, specifically, Black people. The repercussions of the infamous Jim Crow laws are still felt today, and systemic racism has produced redlining and marginalization of Black communities, rendering it difficult or almost impossible for those eligible citizens to vote.
It’s laughable, almost ironic, that a nation as distinguished and respected as the United States has such a problematic voting system.
Everyone eligible to vote owns that as their constitutional right; there is not one person important enough to take that away from another. Change for the better is long, long overdue, and hopefully the future or returning President of the United States can recognize it.
Photo: New York Times