Voter Suppression: Politics As Usual

Voter Suppression: Politics As Usual

What’s a politician to do when too many eligible voters – voters who could lean against him – register on the rolls? If you’re Georgia Secretary of State Kemp, keep ‘em off.

What’s a politician to do when too many eligible voters – voters who might lean against him – register on the rolls? If you’re Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, keep ‘em off.

Kemp has failed to register upwards of 50,000 new voters even though they had submitted timely registrations, according to a number of reports and a recent lawsuit filed by the Lawyers’ Committee against him. Indeed, it’s politics as usual in the Peach State.

Some will recall that, this past summer, Kemp addressed a group of Republicans, stating, “Democrats are working hard … registering all these minority voters that are out there and others that are sitting on the sidelines, if they can do that, they can win these elections in November.”

When the New Georgia Project, a non-partisan entity, submitted 85,000 registrations to his office following its voter drives, Kemp pushed back.  Worried about the implications of all these new voters on the rolls, he launched an investigation into the group, effectively stymieing their civic engagement efforts.  Anything to keep the status quo in place. Of the 85,000 registrations submitted by New Georgia Project, one – one – seemed problematic.

The promise of new voters at the polls seems to be Kemp’s real problem — never mind his duty to run elections in a non-partisan manner. Sadly, he isn’t the only one playing this game. Since the Supreme Court gutted the Voting Rights Act’s requirement that jurisdictions with a history of discrimination at the polls, including Georgia, submit proposed voting changes to the federal government before implementation – states across the country have been passing laws making it harder to cast a ballot. 

Kemp is just another in the long line of officials doing what they can to keep new voters – especially those with lower income or people of color – from the polls on Election Day. Since 2010, roughly 30 new restrictions have been placed on the books that could affect voter turnout. Wisconsin, Texas, and North Carolina – just to name a few – imposed voter ID laws and/or struck down electoral reforms proven to increase turnout, particularly among groups long marginalized in our political process. Georgia, too, passed its own photo ID law, in addition to some onerous redistricting measures. When changes to the law apparently don’t go far enough for some politicians, they just start bending the rules. Where does it end?

One way to stop it is suing on the grounds that these laws disproportionately harm voters of color. Just recently, Texas’s photo ID law was struck down for having a discriminatory impact and intent. And the Supreme Court reversed a 7th Circuit opinion late last week, effectively ensuring that Wisconsin voters will not be required to bring photo ID to the polls on Election Day. But the Court also ruled that the North Carolina legislature’s drastic cuts to early voting and elimination of same day registration will remain in effect for the midterms, at least. Piecemeal lawsuits won’t catch every bad law, and they’re expensive and time-consuming to boot.

That’s why we need a better way. We need a more uniform system. Unless and until each state government stops attacking voters, the federal government must resume its role as gatekeeper. Show your support for an America that allows all eligible voters to cast his or her ballot without restriction, and tell your lawmakers to bring back the Voting Rights Act.