The Politics of Voter Suppression – why it will not go Away and Probably Get Worse

One of the ugliest facets of American politics; voter suppression, is back in the news this summer because of court federal court rulings that struck down restrictive voting laws in several states.

Unfortunately voter suppression will not go away because of these rulings; instead it will probably come back quickly in more sneaky and restrictive fashions. The practice will return because it is both effective and misunderstood.

Voter Suppression is not About Race

The greatest misconception is that voter suppression is about racism. The sorry truth is voter suppression is about political hacks trying to keep their cushy jobs; by keeping persons not likely to vote for them away from the polls.

There is a racial angle in these cases because the political hacks were Republicans who tried to limit African American electoral participation. The legislators wanted to keep blacks away from the polls because they are not likely to vote for the GOP.

Alice LaFountain marks her ballot in Cheshire for the Presidential primary, Tue March 6, 2012 (GARVER)
Alice LaFountain marks her ballot in Cheshire for the Presidential primary, Tue March 6, 2012 (GARVER)

The legislators are hard-nosed politicians who have seen polls; such as a 2013 Gallup survey that showed only 2% of non-Hispanic blacks” identified themselves as Republicans.[1] If similar polls suddenly started showing that evangelical Christians or working class whites were unlikely to vote Republican, they would be trying to suppress those groups.

Disturbingly there is a strong possibility that some Republicans will try to do just that in the next few years. Now that Donald Trump; who rejects the Republican establishment’s libertarian economic orthodoxy, has captured the GOP’s nomination partially by mobilizing working class whites, there will be moves to suppress those voters.

Such efforts might work because establishment Republicans will surely find some Democratic backing for such suppression. It will get wide support on the other side of the aisle, if the party hacks claim they are trying to “keep those ignorant racists out of office.”

Nor were all the voter suppression efforts directed at minorities; a law in Texas targeted younger people; who are more likely to vote Democratic. Under legislation a court struck down, student IDs could not be used by voters. The same law allowed the use of handgun licenses; which are more likely to be owned by Republicans, as “valid IDs.”

How Voter Suppression Works

The other big misconception about voter suppression is that it is about identification. This belief largely exists because of news stories that focus on voter ID laws. Republicans contribute to this because they try to hide their suppression efforts behind the reasonable requirement that voters present a valid photo ID at the polls.

In reality voter suppression relies on a number of tactics most of which have nothing to do with IDs. Most efforts involve changing the operation of elections to make it harder for certain groups to vote.

Common voter suppression tactics include:

  • Limiting the number of polling places. This makes it harder for people particularly the poor, the elderly and the working class to reach the polls. One way this works is to create long lines at the polls; which discourage voters particularly those with limited time.


  • Limiting the hours of operation at the polls. This often prevents working class people from voting; because they have to choose between the ballot and their paycheck. It also favors older voters who might be retired and able to vote in the day, but keeps younger folk who have to work away from the polls. Since older voters are more likely be Republicans you get the picture.


  • Abolishing early voting, weekend voting etc. This makes it difficult for many working people to vote because they have to take time off from the job to reach the polls. There is only one polling place and it is only open on day during nine to five business hours. That too favors older retired voters.


  • Making it hard to register to vote. Abolishing motor voter, requiring voters to go to a special office and sign a special form. That disenfranchises working class people because they have to take time off from their jobs to register to vote.


  • Making it illegal to register to vote at the polls.


  • Restricting the kinds of ids that can be accepted for voter registration. This often targets younger voters who are less likely to have certain kinds of ID such as driver’s licenses.


  • Strict residency requirements. For example requiring proof that a person has lived at an address for more than a few months. Another tactic aimed at younger people and the poor.


  • Restricting absentee voting which disenfranchises the military and younger people. In 2000, Democrats in Florida actually tried to keep the state from counting military ballots presumably because service people are more likely to vote Republican.


  • Cutting the budget for the electoral process. This ensures that there is only a limited number of polling places, voting machines, hours that polls are open etc. Such a tactic is easy to implement and hard to detect because legislatures control the budget.


  • Limiting the number of paid professional elections personnel. This ensures that polling is conducted by “volunteers” who are likely to be party operatives intent on keeping the opposition away from the polls. It is usually such volunteers who abuse ID requirements to block minority voting.


As you can see none of these tactics are race specific and they can all be easily redirected against whites, young people or any other group. To make matters worse the courts only addressed some of these tactics with their decisions.

A major drawback to recent court decisions is that they only bar suppression when there is evidence of racial discrimination. That simply tells politicians to change voter suppression tactics to appear to be non-racially motivated.

Why Voter Suppression is here to stay – It Works

Sadly voter suppression is here to stay because it works. In North Carolina; a state evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, the GOP controls the legislature and Congressional delegation partially through voter suppression.

All the recent decisions will do is cause politicians to turn to two even more effective means of voter suppression – gerrymandering and primary elections. Those methods are even more insidious than those banned, because they have the support of Democrats and African American politicians.


Gerrymandering works by drawing legislative or congressional districts to contain a majority of white or black voters. This effectively “ghettoizes” politics by allowing politicians to run on narrow race based platforms. Republicans win by appealing only to whites and ignoring blacks, and vice versa.

Disturbingly African American politicians generally go along with gerrymandering because it often ensures their re-election. African American politicians that adopt far-left political positions are often the biggest beneficiaries of this status quo. They get safe districts in exchange for allowing Republicans control of the legislature.

Primaries are even worse because only members of the party vote in them. Donald Trump was able to get away with his racist campaign because the Republican electorate is 89% white. If the GOP primary voters looked like America; that is being around 20% non-white, Donald would have probably sang a very different tune.

The Democrats do the Republicans one better with the so-called super delegates. These are professional politicians whose votes can supersede the popular vote in the primaries. It was super delegates that enabled Establishment Democrats to block US Senator Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid

Expect to see efforts to strengthen and institutionalize both gerrymandering and primaries because they work. Also expect to see more voter suppression in the years ahead because politics are in flux. Many professional politicians are afraid for their jobs and willing to do anything to protect them.

Therefore we will see more voter suppression in the years ahead and more efforts to justify it. What remains to be seen is if the courts will continue their aggressive stance against this reprehensible practice, or start allowing it.