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Voting Disenfranchisement, Take Two

By Staff Writer Alyssa Karbel ‘20

· Alyssa Karbel

First and foremost, I believe that we, as Americans, should be thankful for our right to vote.

Over the years, this defining privilege of American society has evolved in many positive ways: the 19th amendment extended the right to women in 1919; the 1965 Voting Rights Act prohibited racial discrimination in voting; and the 1993 National Voter Registration Act made it easier for citizens to execute their right to vote.

Today, states can no longer use poll taxes, literacy tests, or legal intimidation to restrict voting rights, particularly among historically targeted groups like African Americans, Native Americans, and poor whites. It is safe to say that we are much closer to achieving voter equality today than we were at any other point in American history.

But we are still far from truly attaining this goal. In effect, we still have some poll taxes today: they simply hide under other names.  

Name One: Voter Identification Laws.

Out of the 119 million people who voted on November 8th, over 50 million of them were either pressured or required to show some form of identification.  

In 1950, South Carolina was the first state to request a form of voter identification at polls. At first, the rate at which other states adopted this policy was slow; by 2000, only thirteen other states had followed suit. Then, in 2005, the Commission on Federal Election Reform made a bipartisan recommendation for voter identification at the polls.

With the support of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Crawford v. Marion County, Georgia and Indiana soon pioneered a new, stricter form of voter identification: instead of requesting it, they required it. Shortly thereafter, the pace at which other states enacted voter identification laws rose dramatically.

Importantly, these new laws do not affect all societal members equally. While only five percent of Whites lack photographic identification, the statistic is ten percent for Hispanics and thirteen percent for African Americans. Additionally, while only two percent of adults living in households with over $150,000 annual income lack a photo ID, the statistic climbs to twelve percent in households making less than $25,000.

Consequently, minorities and adults from low-income households are less likely to be able to fulfill voter identification requirements at the polls and are more likely to be disenfranchised.

Name Two: Inefficient Voting Centers.

While its effects may seem less obvious, the extreme inefficiency of certain polling locations also affects who is able to vote. Although only five percent of voters have to wait in lines for over an hour (the average wait-time is fourteen minutes), five percent of all general election voters translates to about six million people.

Importantly, the problematic voting centers are concentrated in low-income counties, oftentimes those with large minority populations. As a result, these individuals may be less likely to execute their right to vote, as they need to choose between voting and work time, along with its associated pay. Therefore, voting center inefficiencies not only affect how many can vote, but also who can vote.

According to Professors Charles Stewart III, of M.I.T., and Stephen Ansolabehere, of Harvard, long lines at the polls discouraged between 500,000 and 700,000 would-be voters from casting ballots in the 2012 presidential election. And this phenomenon could have very real implications: estimates suggest that Hillary Clinton would have won the Electoral College if she had secured 100,000 more votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin.

Is it possible that the decreased voter turnout due to inefficient voting centers might have tipped the election for Donald Trump? Short answer:  Yes.

For years, voting trends based on location have been fairly consistent: Democrats tend to dominate the more populated, urban centers, and Republicans tend to lead in suburbs and dominate rural areas. And there are consistent voting trends based on race as well: the Democratic base contains a tremendous amount of diversity, whereas the Republican base is comprised mainly of white voters.  

It is impossible to know with certainty whether or not shorter wait times in urban precincts in Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin would have resulted in a different president-elect. However, the Government Accountability Office confirmed that the longest waiting times were located in urban areas with predominantly non-white residents. Therefore, according to voting trends, it is likely that many of Stewart and Ansolabehere’s “discouraged voters” would have voted for the Democratic candidate. If 100,000 people did so, Hillary Clinton might have clinched the Presidential nomination. 

While we should be thankful for our right to vote, we should not be content until everyone has equal access to this fundamental right.

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