voter suppression

INFOGRAPHIC: The Voter Suppression Guide

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 22 states have implemented laws that make voting increasingly difficult for hundreds of thousands of Americans. In his article “How to Suppress the Vote,” (Sojourners, November 2014), Bob Smietana explores the myth of voter fraud and the way it could affect the way you vote.

Check out the infographic below to see the stats on voter suppression. Is your state on the list?

Lani Prunés is an editorial assistant at Sojourners.


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How to Suppress the Vote

IN THIS YEAR'S midterm elections, hundreds of thousands of Americans will have a much more difficult time casting their ballots than they did two years ago. And it won’t be because of rain, or early winter snows, or other acts of God.

It will be because powerful people don’t want them to vote.

Why? They stand to gain politically if the “wrong” people can be kept away from the polls. It’s the opposite of a “get out the vote” campaign—“keep out the vote” describes it better.

The tradition of keeping particular sectors of the population from taking part in the franchise goes back to the founding fathers. John Adams, for instance, believed that only rich, successful, smart people should vote—and only people of a certain race and gender, of course.

“Such is the frailty of the human heart,” Adams wrote in May 1776, “that very few men who have no property have any judgment of their own.” At the time, politicians in Massachusetts wanted to allow men who didn’t own property to vote. Adams thought that was a bad idea. For him, no property meant no vote.

Adams felt that young people, the poor and illiterate, and many other ordinary citizens lacked the basic judgment needed to cast wise ballots. Most of them, he felt, knew just enough about public policy to be dangerous. If the ballot box was opened to “every man who has not a farthing,” he wrote, then all sorts of other unworthy souls would soon demand the right to vote as well.

Most of the other founding fathers agreed. In 1790, 10 out of the 13 original colonies allowed only property owners to vote. But by 1850, only three of the then-31 states had such property-owner restrictions. Since then, the other efforts to limit access to voting—from a $2 poll tax in Mississippi to literacy tests—were fought and eventually eliminated.

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Voting Rights Act is an Important Moral Statement

Supreme Court Building,  Brandon Bourdages /

Supreme Court Building, Brandon Bourdages /

Our country’s laws represent our values and our moral compass as Americans. They set norms, define transgressions, and mete out consequences for actions. And almost 50 years ago, our nation realized the harassment, intimidation, bureaucratic shenanigans, and violence so many African-Americans and other minority communities experienced when trying to exercise their rights to vote and participate in our great democracy. Our intolerance of such injustice led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — a great triumph in the defense of life, dignity, and equality.

Notwithstanding the near-universal praise the Voting Rights Act has received for ending some of the most overt discriminatory practices in our country’s voting history, there are some saying the Voting Rights Act’s time has passed. In fact, on Wednesday, the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments from Shelby County, Ala., that a key provision of the Voting Rights Act is unconstitutional and should be struck down. These arguments are misguided. The Voting Rights Act remains a vital piece of our national moral commitment never to permit racial discrimination in elections again.

My Vote Was Stolen

South Photography/Gallo images/Contributor Getty Images

Nelson mandela votes for the first time in his life. South Photography/Gallo images/Contributor Getty Images

What does it feel like to have your vote stolen?

It sucks. It feels like someone literally let all the air out of my balloon animal.

Late in September, I happily filled out my absentee ballot request form to the DuPage Election Commission. Illinois had a new measure that allows for anyone to request an absentee ballot. I expected for there to be a delay.

So I waited.

And I waited some more.

Watch the Vote: A Prayer for America

Close-up of a statue and an American flag, Purestock / Getty Images

Close-up of a statue and an American flag, Purestock / Getty Images

It’s here, God — Election Day in America. Today is the day when Americans everywhere are given the privilege and responsibility to exercise dominion (agency) at the polls.

Scripture tells us every human being is made in the image of God. We are, therefore, equally worthy of protection of the law. The United States Constitution and its Amendments tell us we are equally worthy of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, at this very moment, laws stand poised to snatch dominion from the hands of the poor, the weak, and the vulnerable, ethnic minorities, students, and the elderly. Some scurrilous elected officials have worked behind the scenes to suppress the ability of voters to elect the person of their choice — all for the sake of politics

Disenfranchisement Is the Biggest Threat of All

Of all the ugliness in Election 2012, nothing is more disturbing than attempts to prevent people from voting. Voter suppression strikes at the very heart of American democracy.

The flood of money into this year's campaigns has been bad enough, as wealth has sought to do what wealth usually seeks to do: gain control and preference.

The shouting of lies – not just shading the truth, but outright lies – has cheapened the liars and insulted the public.

Demagogic attacks grounded in religion, phony patriotism and race have undermined public trust in all politicians. It will take years to dig out from under the rot of such scorched-earth tactics.

But denying the basic right of citizenship to millions of voters is an offense we should all be protesting. For if the powerful can deny the vote to their opponents – especially the poor and people of color – they can deny the vote to anyone.

Watch the Vote: The Ground Game

Voting illustration,  suwan reunintr /

Voting illustration, suwan reunintr /

For the next 12 days it’s all about the ground game. With most voter registration deadlines passed, the fight against voter suppression has shifted focus from registration drives to calling banks, car-pools, and calls to vote early.

Bishop Dwayne Royster is Executive Director of P.O.W.E.R.  (Philadelphians Organized to Witness Empower and Rebuild), a 37-member interfaith organizing coalition in Philadelphia. Royster is also lead pastor of Living Waters United Church of Christ in Philadelphia. In a recent interview Bishop Royster explained just how vital the fight against voter suppression has been for the people of Philadelphia.

According to a study conducted by the Pew Charitable Trust’s Philadelphia Research Initiative, Philadelphia is the 6th poorest large city in America with a poverty rate that held at 25 percent in 2011. The unemployment rate is higher than the national average at 11.5 percent, and nearly half of all high school students engage in a fist fight at least once in the course of a year. Tensions are high in the City of Brotherly Love.

Watch the Vote: Is the Voting Rights Act Still Needed?

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Hazel Dukes (L), NAACP New York State Conference, announce 'Stand for Freedom' voting rights campaign. Mario Tama/Getty Images

The 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution was the third in a triad of amendments crafted to protect the rights of recently emancipated African Americans. The 13th Amendment abolished slavery. The 14th Amendment granted citizenship to people who were once enslaved, regardless of race. The 15th Amendment, which was passed by Congress February 26, 1869 and ratified February 3, 1870, reads: 

Section 1.
The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude —

Section 2.
The Congress shall have the power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

It took nearly a century of blood, terror, and tears, but in 1965 President Lyndon B Johnson and the 89th U.S. Congress passed the Voting Rights Act of 1965; legislation to enforce the 15th Amendment. Finally.

One year more than a decade later, in 1976, I walked hand-in-hand with my mother trudging up and down city blocks lined with row houses in our West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia. Each time we knocked and a neighbor came to the door, my mom, who served as the judge of elections for our neighborhood, asked: “Are you registered to vote?” If they weren’t, out came the clipboard.

I didn’t understand the legacy we were a part of that day, but with each sweep of the clipboard we were brandishing a non-violent weapon in the long fight of our ancestors to be and stay free. For 100 years — that’s five generations — they faced down the terror of burning crosses, threats to life and livelihood, and the elaborate labyrinth of Jim Crow voting laws — all set up to suppress their votes, all set up to crush their ability to exercise dominion

So, when the Supreme Court announced recently that one of the cases it would take up in this session was a challenge to Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, the hairs rose on the back of my neck.

Watch the Vote: 28 Days, 13 States, 1 Prayer

Voting illustration,  gst /

Voting illustration, gst /

Editor's Note: This is the third article in Lisa Sharon Harper’s election season blog series, Watch the Vote. You can read the last article here

With 28 days to go until our nation chooses its 45th president, a string of court victories have knocked down Jim-Crow-style barriers to voting that have been erected in states across the nation. But 13 states are still under the oppressive weight of laws designed to suppress the vote.  

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, starting in early 2011, 41 states introduced legislation to restrict voting laws. Nineteen quietly passed 25 laws and two executive actions, some of which require government-issued photo IDs, proof of citizenship, fewer early-voting days, the elimination of Election Day voter registration, created barriers to voter registration drives, and created more obstacles for citizens with past criminal convictions. 

The good news is that over the past few months we have seen one court case after another block the enactment of the worst provisions of these new Jim Crow laws. According to a recent Brennan Center study, 10 courts have blocked or blunted restrictive voting laws — and the Department of Justice blocked one more — since Oct. 3.